Later On

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

Archive for March 23rd, 2010

White-male change aversion

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DougJ at Balloon Juice:

Ever since I read that crazy Tom Shales hit piece on Christiane Amanpour, I’ve been thinking of Jeff Rosen’s similar hit piece on Sonia Sotomayor. I guess I’m not the only one (Adam Serwer via Atrios):

As with Sonia Sotomayor, no amount of personal excellence can calm certain kinds of skepticism, because the question really comes down to one of resources and tribalist rivalry. Amanpour would be the only woman hosting a Sunday morning show on one of the major three networks, just as Sotomayor became the first Latina on the court. Because of her gender and ethnic background, she is another challenger to a professional space traditionally reserved for white men.

So of course she’s not “objective.” Only white men can be “objective.” Which is how you know “objectivity” in this context is anything but.

There’s some kind of progress here, though. From what I understand, forty years ago, John F. Kennedy struggled with objectivity as a Catholic. And now Bart Stupak is as objective as they come.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

More goodies from the healthcare legislation

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Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

Merrill Goozner points out another little-noticed provision in the bill: “Drug and device companies will soon have to report payments to physicians in a national database, thanks to a little noted section of the health care reform bill called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act.”

There were a lot of complaints about the transparency of the health-care reform process. I think most of those complaints were wrong: It’s hard to identify another debate that stretched for this long, that featured this many legislative proposals and CBO analyses and interviews and op-eds and think-tank summaries and televised mark-ups, all of which were available to download on the Internet. There has simply never been a legislative debate that offered everyday Americans so much opportunity to read the primary documents and their explanations and estimations.

What got lost in this, however, is how much transparency the bill is going to bring to the health-care sector. It’s not that every doctor visit will be televised, or every meeting of insurance executives streamed over the Internet. But hospitals will have to post prices. Insurance products will be presented with standardized information, consumer ratings and quality measures. The payments physicians take from drug and device companies will be in a public database. There will be independent funding for research on the relative effectiveness of different treatments. Some of these changes are small and some are big, but put together, the system is going to become a lot more visible in the coming years.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 4:07 pm

Molly the owl

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I continue to watch the daily life of the owls with fascination. Their names are McGee (the male) and Molly, obviously named after Fibber McGee and Molly, a radio program. “Fibber” wasn’t McGee’s name—he was a a fibber, a compulsive teller of tall tales.

One egg has hatched (and Molly immediately ate the shell). The stuff on the floor is basically fur: Molly eats the mice, rabbits, possums, etc., that McGee brings her, and then she coughs up owl pellets: compressed bundles of fur and bones. These have little odor and are clean, and once they’ve dried, Molly picks them apart with her beak, the fur to be the nest and the bones she eats.

One owlet, Max, has hatched. (“Max” may be short for “Maxine”: we don’t know.) Four  eggs still to hatch with one due any moment.

Here’s the camera view.

Molly and McGee, BTW, are totally wild. The guy (Carlos Royal) set up the owl box and for two years it remained vacant until Molly and McGee came along and decided it was a good place to raise a family.

UPDATE: I just read the Wikipedia entry on Barn Owls, and I learned that this may be Molly’s only clutch of eggs. Life in the wild is tough.

Most individuals manage to breed only once in their life, falling victim to predators or accidents before being 2 years of age. While wild Barn Owls are thus decidedly short-lived, the actual longevity of the species is much higher – captive individuals may reach 20 years or more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

How Obama revived the healthcare bill

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Excellent behind-the-scenes article by Ceci Connolly in the Washington Post, pointed out by Steve Benen at Political Animal:

It was the Barack Obama the American public rarely sees — irritated and wondering if he had arrived at the moment of defeat. Shortly after 6 p.m. on Jan. 19, with a political crisis about to explode, the president summoned the two top Democrats in Congress to the Oval Office for a strategy session. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the tension in the room acute.

Obama wasn’t waiting for the polls to close in Massachusetts at 8 that evening. He already knew that his Democratic Party was about to suffer an embarrassing loss. In the bitterest of ironies, the Senate seat held for nearly 47 years by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who had been the leading voice in Congress for universal health care, was about to fall into Republican hands.

Now the president was asking members of his assembled brain trust: What were they going to do?

Although they shared Obama’s desire to vastly expand the nation’s health-care system, they were divided over how to salvage his signature policy proposal.

Mathematically, Scott Brown’s impending victory would deny Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. With only 59 votes loosely under his control, Reid wanted the House to adopt the version of the health-care bill that had barely squeaked through the Senate on Christmas Eve.

No way, said Pelosi.

"The Senate bill is a non-starter," she said. "I can’t sell that to my members."

Pelosi lectured the others about the political realities of the House: Her Democratic troops did not trust the Senate, and she would face a mutiny if she asked them to do what Reid was suggesting.

They talked over each other, round and round, repeating the arguments Obama had heard for weeks.

"Let me finish," he broke in.

This was not how the president had envisioned things. He was just one day away from celebrating his first year in office. By now, he was to have signed into law a landmark bill guaranteeing health care to every American, the broadest piece of social policy legislation since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

Instead, he was confronting the very real prospect of failure on an equally grand scale.

The remarkable change in political fortunes thrust Obama into a period of uncertainty and demonstrated the ability of one person to control the balance of power in Washington. On Jan. 19, that person seemed to be Brown.

But as the next 61 days would show, culminating in Sunday night’s historic vote, the fate of the legislation ultimately rested in the hands of Obama, who in the hours before Brown’s victory was growing increasingly frustrated as Pelosi detailed why no answer was in sight.

There went health-care reform.

There went history.

"I understand that, Nancy," he finally snapped. "What’s your solution?" …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 3:01 pm

An example of why the GOP is bad for this country

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Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress provides an example of the childishness and irresponsibility of the GOP, who seem to have zero interest in effective governing:

There is a little-known rule in the Senate stating that hearings can’t happen after 2:00 p.m. each day without unanimous consent. However, every day, at the start of business, the Senate generally agrees, by unanimous consent, to waive this rule and continue with the necessary business of holding hearings. Here is the rule:

5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of the rules, when the Senate is in session, no committee of the Senate or any subcommittee thereof may meet, without special leave, after the conclusion of the first two hours after the meeting of the Senate commenced and in no case after two o’clock postmeridian unless consent therefor has been obtained from the majority leader and the minority leader (or in the event of the absence of either of such leaders, from his designee). The prohibition contained in the preceding sentence shall not apply to the Committee on Appropriations or the Committee on the Budget. The majority leader or his designee shall announce to the Senate whenever consent has been given under this subparagraph and shall state the time and place of such meeting. The right to make such announcement of consent shall have the same priority as the filing of a cloture motion.

Republicans, however, are now refusing to give unanimous consent and are blocking the hearings. Today, during a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on transparency, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) announced that he had to stop the proceedings because of Republican blocks:

I have just been advised by my staff that on the floor of the Senate there has been a move to stop all the proceedings in hearings that are going on in the Senate, and we are compelled to stop at this point in time. And I regret it, but there are rules here when we reach point in time and unless there’s unanimous consent to proceed for — as you may recall — unless there’s unanimous consent in the Senate to be able to proceed, we can only go on for so long and then we have to stop our hearings. And the whistle has blown. Unfortunately, we and all the other committees and subcommittees that are holding hearings have to, at this time, cease. I feel very badly about that. It’s not my doing.

Watch it:

ThinkProgress spoke to a Homeland Committee staffer who said that the committee’s work would be significantly disrupted if Republicans refuse to give unanimous consent throughout the week. The AP also reported today that Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) had a hearing on the bark beetle canceled today “after Republicans angry over the passage of health insurance reform legislation blocked it by using an obscure Senate rule requiring a unanimous consent to hold hearings scheduled after 2 p.m.”

Democratic staffers on the Hill told ThinkProgress that they anticipate Republicans will not only continue blocking hearings for the rest of the week, but also delay or block all sorts of minor, routine measures. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office did not reply to a request for comment.

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office put out a statement this afternoon responding to the GOP blocks:

Senator McCain’s promised obstruction comes to reality just a day later. "The Party of No" wouldn’t even agree to let Senate committees meet today. Ironically, as they make false claims about transparency regarding health reform, they’re shutting down a committee hearing today on transparency in government.

The bottom line is that as millions of Americans are learning about the immediate benefits of health reform, Republicans are throwing a temper tantrum and grinding important Senate business to a halt.

I’m hoping that this is the death spiral of the GOP. I can’t believe that the American public will think that these actions are constructive in any way.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Israel, do you really want the money from the US?

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Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

If the Israelis’ announcement of new settlement construction in Jerusalem during Vice President Biden’s Israel trip was “insulting,” what’s this?

The Jerusalem municipality has given final approval to a group of settlers construct 20 apartments in a controversial hotel in East Jerusalem, Haaretz learned on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington smoothing over ties with the United States over the latest settlement-related tensions, and hours before the premier was to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.

Apparently Netanyahu’s fiery speech last night was only a prologue of how disinterested the Israeli PM is in mending fences with the Obama administration. Marc Lynch of George Washington University tweets that Obama should cancel his meeting with Netanyahu at the White House, scheduled to begin in just a couple of minutes.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 2:49 pm

Armageddon? Really?

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It’s not yet evident here in Monterey.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 2:20 pm

HCR effective dates

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From the Washington Post:

Within a year

— Provides a $250 rebate to Medicare prescription drug plan beneficiaries whose initial benefits run out.

90 days after enactment

— Provides immediate access to high-risk pools for people who have no insurance because of preexisting conditions.

Six months after enactment

— Bars insurers from denying people coverage when they get sick.

— Bars insurers from denying coverage to children who have preexisting conditions.

— Bars insurers from imposing lifetime caps on coverage.

— Requires insurers to allow young people to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

2011

— Requires individual and small group market insurance plans to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on medical services. Large group plans would have to spend at least 85 percent.

2013

— Increases the Medicare payroll tax and expands it to dividend, interest, and other unearned income for singles earning more than $200,000 and joint filers making more than $250,000.

2014

— Provides subsidies for families earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level — or, under current guidelines, about $88,000 a year — to purchase health insurance.

— Requires most employers to provide coverage or face penalties.

— Requires most people to obtain coverage or face penalties.

2018

— Imposes a 40 percent excise tax on high-end insurance policies.

By 2019

— Expands health insurance coverage to 32 million people.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 2:11 pm

Could SCOTUS Be The Death Panel For Health-Care Reform?

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Zachary Roth at TPMMuckraker:

Now that President Obama has signed health-care reform into law, opponents of the bill are pinning their hopes of stopping it on a last-ditch legal strategy. A group of 13 state attorneys general has filed suit (pdf), arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

The bid seems far-fetched at first. But the Roberts Court has recently shown a willingness to strike down landmark legislation — charges of judicial activism be damned. So, given the stakes, it’s worth asking: Could health-care reform have made it through the congressional gauntlet, only to end up dying in the courts?

In recent media appearances, the AGs — the most high-profile of whom have been Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, Bill McCollum of Florida, and Henry McMaster of South Carolina — have made a grab-bag of claims, among them that the bill violates state sovereignty. That’s a contention that no court is likely to have much time for. As Steve Schwinn, an associate law professor at John Marshall Law School has written, state laws that aim to override the federal mandate "are almost surely unconstitutional, as conflicting directly with the federal requirement."

The stronger argument in the arsenal of the AGs — many of whom happen to be running for governor — relates to the Commerce Clause, the section of the Constitution that empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce. The AGs focus on the provision of the bill that requires almost all Americans to obtain health insurance. They argue that imposing a penalty on people merely for declining to buy insurance is outside the scope of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause. "For the federal government to be telling people that they must buy health insurance, or they must buy anything at all, is not one of the powers that is give to the federal government by the Constitution," McMaster declared on Fox yesterday. "Nowhere does it say that the federal government can require a private citizen to go out and buy health insurance or anything else. It’s not a part of the Commerce Clause power."

This argument isn’t, as some reform supporters may wish to see it, merely a bizarre and desperate concoction of the far-right wing — akin, for instance, to the pseudo-legal arguments advanced by "Constitutionalists" for why Obama’s presidency is illegitimate. Over the last six months, it’s been embraced by several respected conservative legal scholars. And more importantly, an emerging jurisprudence from the conservative court does show a willingness to limit the scope of the Commerce Clause.

Last September, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, former Justice Department lawyers during the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations who played prominent roles in support of the Bush 43 administration’s detention policies, noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that in a 1995 case, U.S. v. Lopez, the Supreme Court invalidated a law that made it a crime simply to possess a gun near a school, holding that the law did not "regulate any economic activity and did not contain any requirement that the possession of a gun have any connection to past interstate activity or a predictable impact on future commercial activity." Likewise, Rivkin and Casey wrote, a health-care mandate also wouldn’t regulate any "activity." "Simply being an American would trigger it."

Randy Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown Law School, agrees: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 1:46 pm

Why are Liberals more intelligent than Conservatives?

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Interesting article at Essential Reads by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at LSE:

Harriet Hayes:  I don’t even know what the sides are in the culture wars.

Matt Albie:  Well, your side hates my side because you think we think you are stupid, and my side hates your side because we think you are stupid.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Nevada Day, Part I

It is difficult to define a whole school of political ideology precisely, but one may reasonably define liberalism (as opposed to conservatism) in the contemporary United States as the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.  In the modern political and economic context, this willingness usually translates into paying higher proportions of individual incomes in taxes toward the government and its social welfare programs.  Liberals usually support such social welfare programs and higher taxes to finance them, and conservatives usually oppose them.

Defined as such, liberalism is evolutionarily novel.  Humans (like other species) are evolutionarily designed to be altruistic toward their genetic kin, their friends and allies, and members of their deme (a group of intermarrying individuals) or ethnic group.  They are not designed to be altruistic toward an indefinite number of complete strangers whom they are not likely ever to meet or interact with.  This is largely because our ancestors lived in a small band of 50-150 genetically related individuals, and large cities and nations with thousands and millions of people are themselves evolutionarily novel.

The examination of the 10-volume compendium The Encyclopedia of World Cultures, which describes all human cultures known to anthropology (more than 1,500) in great detail, as well as extensive primary ethnographies of traditional societies, reveals that liberalism as defined above is absent in these traditional cultures.  While sharing of resources, especially food, is quite common and often mandatory among hunter-gatherer tribes, and while trade with neighboring tribes often takes place, there is no evidence that people in contemporary hunter-gatherer bands freely share resources with members of other tribes.

Because all members of a hunter-gatherer tribe are genetic kin or at the very least friends and allies for life, sharing resources among them does not qualify as an expression of liberalism as defined above.  Given its absence in the contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, which are often used as modern-day analogs of our ancestral life, it may be reasonable to infer that sharing of resources with total strangers that one has never met or is not likely ever to meet – that is, liberalism – was not part of our ancestral life.  Liberalism may therefore be evolutionarily novel, and the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely than less intelligent individuals to espouse liberalism as a value.

Analyses of large representative samples, from both the United States and the United Kingdom, confirm this prediction.  In both countries, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be liberals than less intelligent children.  For example, among the American sample, those who identify themselves as “very liberal” in early adulthood have a mean childhood IQ of 106.4, whereas those who identify themselves as “very conservative” in early adulthood have a mean childhood IQ of 94.8.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Six things to fix

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I’ve mentioned a few times that the healthcare legislation will now start being improved and polished. Jon Walker at FireDogLake nominates 6 high-priority fixes:

This health care reform bill passed late last night and soon to be signed into law is a seriously flawed piece of legislation, for it fails to achieve the goals of real health care reform. Now that it is essentially the law of the land, the country needs to work diligently at the federal and state levels to correct many of the most egregious problems with the legislation before the reform package fully goes into effect in 2014. The six main areas that need to be fixed are: cost control, enforcement, individual mandate, abortion, competition, and immigration.

1) Lack of Real Cost Control

This bill does not create real cost control and will not bring down premiums for most Americans. Congress and state legislatures need to adopt real cost control measures like: drug re-importation, Medicare direct drug price negotiation, a public insurance option, Medicare buy-in, or a central provider reimbursement negotiator (all-payer system). These changes would save the government and regular Americans hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

The bill also needs to provide a better pathway for states to opt-out of this bill so they can experiment with better health care models that could truly bring down cost.

2) Dangerously Weak Enforcement

There are some good new regulations, but regulations are only as good as the strength of the agency tasked to enforce them. This bill is dangerously lacking in this area, leaving enforcement mainly up to the same state insurance commissioners that now often lack the will, funding, or power to hold the private insurance companies honest. Only a national exchange and a federal insurance commissioner would have the power to make sure the new regulations are more than over-hyped window dressing.

3) Individual Mandate

The individual mandate, which uses the IRS to force people to buy a product from a poorly regulated private industry, is an affront to the American people. The policy is not needed, and must be corrected before it has a chance to go into effect. People must be offered the choice of a public alternative, or the individual mandate must be repealed. Alternatives like a back premium payment system could achieve a similar policy goal to an individual mandate without a massive expansion of the IRS or government coercion.

4) Abortion

This bill is a massive rollback of a woman’s right to choose. It would take away the abortion coverage of millions of Americans. The system of exchanges and affordability tax credits could easily be modified to ensure federal funds are not used to pay for abortions, while still not taking away the ability of women and small businesses to buy insurance packages that cover abortion. Having an individual mandate that forces women to buy insurance, but also a law that prevents them from getting insurance that covers a legal medical procedure, is a disgusting abuse of women’s rights.

5) Lack of Health Insurance Competition

The bill will do almost nothing to address the problem of lack of competition in the health insurance market. Repealing the anti-trust exemption and adding a public option would be two big steps toward solving the problem. Creating an all-payer system would make it easier for new insurers to enter new markets. Requiring a standardized insurance package, instead of a confusing set of choices based on actuarial value, would allow Americans to do real apples-to-apples comparison shopping. Finally, adding much stronger risk adjustment mechanisms would force insurance companies to compete on quality instead of on avoiding the sickest Americans.

6) Immigration

Under this almost-law, undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to buy insurance on the new exchanges, even if they are willing to pay the full cost of the insurance with their own money. This policy is not only cruel and immoral, but fiscally irresponsible. The more undocumented immigrants that pay for their own health care, the more taxpayers save by not being forced to pick up the cost of undocumented immigrants’ uncompensated care when they use the emergency rooms.

The White House and Democratic leaders have made many promises about health care reform throughout this long and winding process—from guaranteeing affordable, quality care for everyone to pledging tougher regulation of the medical industrial complex that created this broken system in the first place. If the majority party wants to honestly deliver on these promises—not to mention if they want to remain in the majority—then a concerted and immediate effort is required to prove that this week’s legislation is truly the first step toward reform, and not the last.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 1:02 pm

More on the popularity/public opinion issue

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Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com:

This is response to the numerous critics who have suggested that the Democrats were somehow unethical, anti-democratic or even tyrannical to enact their health care policy at a time when it polls poorly in most opinion surveys. I find this argument to be exceptionally weak. You can certainly argue that the health care bills are bad policy and that enacting them in spite of what seems to be substantial opposition is foolhardy — and it absolutely is unusual for Congress to enact bills of this magnitude with such tenuous public support.

But unethical? Was the "will of the electorate" breached? I think any such framing has to contend with the following 14 arguments:

1. That Obama and Democratic Congress were democratically elected by very robust majorities on a platform which explicitly included health-care reform and has since time immemorial

2. That the voters have almost immediate recourse in the form of midterm elections that will take place in eight months and a Presidential election that will take place in two years — both of which come before the most substantial parts of the legislation are enacted.

3. That polls show the overall concepts of reforming the healthcare system and providing for universal coverage were popular at the start of the process and remain reasonably popular now.

4. That polls show that the specific details of the Democratic plan are (mostly) popular, and that when a neutral and accurate description of the contents of the bills are read to the respondent, support usually increases to plurality or majority levels.

5. That substantial elements of the public lack basic knowledge about verifiable facts of the bill, sometimes because of deliberate misrepresentations on the part of the bill’s opponents.

6. That history suggests that endeavors of this nature (Medicare, Social Security, Romneycare) generally become popular and are appreciated by the large majority of voters at some point after they become law.

7. That a tangible percentage of those who register as opposed to the bill oppose it from the left — probably enough to form a majority with those who support it — and may nevertheless prefer it to the status quo (the more explicitly a poll compares the current proposals with the status quo — see Question 25 here — the more favorable the results tend to be).

8. That opinion polling is an inexact science — especially on complex questions like health care — and that it is sometimes conducted by those with perverse incentives.

9. That manipulating the opinions of voters in order to affect instantaneous public opinion surveys has become a more-or-less explicit goal of all parties in a legislative negotiation, and that the winner of the "game" of manipulating public opinion will often simply be the most skilled craftsman/technician (of course this is also true to some large extent of electoral politics).

10. That the polling is impacted by the fact that the health care bills tend to help a small number of people greatly (the uninsured) while potentially hurting a larger number of people slightly (such as through higher deficits and taxes) — and that these inequities stem not from the "state of nature" but from arbitrary policy decisions made by past U.S. governments that benefited certain groups (such those employed by large businesses) at the expense of others: Is this also a kind of ‘tyranny of the majority’?

11. That the groups who would benefit the most from health care reform tend to be politically disenfranchised and may not have their views reflected by polls, especially those of registered or likely voters.

12. That only a relatively small minority of the public wants the Congress to give up on health care reform, but that there are few obvious alternatives to the current proposals that are both politically tenable and fiscally responsible.

13. That the United States is a constitutional republic rather than a direct democracy.

14. That were the Congress closer to a direct democracy — such as by having proportional representation of Senators, non-gerrymandered congressional districts, and a norm for majority-rules procedures in the Senate — health care reform would have been signed into law months ago and would likely be substantially more liberal and sweeping than the reforms that have in fact been enacted.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 12:52 pm

Very interesting healthcare statistics from WHO

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The World Health Organization has some interesting statistics. You can see them in this article in the Guardian, and I also copied the figures into an Excel spreadsheet (click the link to download) so that you can sort on any column.

UPDATE: Unnecessary effort on my part. They already provided a better spreadsheet for downloading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 12:36 pm

One big neighborhood

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Chart via Andrew Sullivan (click to enlarge):

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Environment

Healthcare reform benefits that will hit by the end of September 2010

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From Crooks & Liars:

Here are ten benefits which come online within six months of the President’s signature on the health care bill:

  1. Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday
  2. Children under age 19 may not be excluded for pre-existing conditions
  3. No more lifetime or annual caps on coverage
  4. Free preventative care for all
  5. Adults with pre-existing conditions may buy into a national high-risk pool until the exchanges come online. While these will not be cheap, they’re still better than total exclusion and get some benefit from a wider pool of insureds.
  6. Small businesses will be entitled to a tax credit for 2009 and 2010, which could be as much as 50% of what they pay for employees’ health insurance.
  7. The “donut hole” closes for Medicare patients, making prescription medications more affordable for seniors.
  8. Requirement that all insurers must post their balance sheets on the Internet and fully disclose administrative costs, executive compensation packages, and benefit payments.
  9. Authorizes early funding of community health centers in all 50 states (Bernie Sanders’ amendment). Community health centers provide primary, dental and vision services to people in the community, based on a sliding scale for payment according to ability to pay.
  10. AND no more rescissions. Effective immediately, you can’t lose your insurance because you get sick.

I think that most people will see these as good and valuable. Interesting that the GOP has decided to run this November on repealing these benefits, but of course few would say that the GOP is intelligent.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 12:14 pm

McDonald’s doing damage control

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Nicki Gostin at Kitchen Daily:

McDonald’s officials in Shanghai attempted to reassure customers that their food is fine to eat after a Denver nutritionist published claims that it is packed with preservatives.

Joann Bruso, whose website is called BabyBites.info, left a Happy Meal (a product primarily eaten by children) out for one year…that’s right a whole year. The horrifying results? She alleges that the food did not change at all.

“It sat on my shelf for a year as a silent witness to our fast-food industry. It never smelled bad. The food did not decompose,” she wrote.

McDonald’s issued the following statement: “No preservatives are added to the beef patties in McDonald’s hamburgers.” It went on to trumpet McDonald’s commitment to sanitation and freshness.

It may be true that there are no preservatives in the meat, but what they shrewdly omitted is what goes into the buns, lettuce, cheese and sauces.

On the McDonald’s website over a dozen ingredients are listed for a Big Mac bun including azodicarbonamide. (Maybe they should include that in the little ditty listing the ingredients: Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on an azodicarbonamide sesame-seed bun!)

The cheese has something called calcium disodium EDTA, to protect its flavor, and the fries have sodium acid pyrophosphate. Even the pickle slices contain preservatives. After reading the Dr. Seuss-like list of ingredients one could hardly describe it as a paragon to freshness (it barely even resembles food).

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 11:58 am

High-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

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UPDATE: Marion Nestle very skeptical of this study.

Hilary Parker tells us that something we’ve all suspected is true:

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.
In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.
“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”

A Princeton University research team, including (from left) undergraduate Elyse Powell, psychology professor Bart Hoebel, visiting research associate Nicole Avena and graduate student Miriam Bocarsly, has demonstrated that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup — a sweetener found in many popular sodas — gain significantly more weight than those with access to water sweetened with table sugar, even when they consume the same number of calories. The work may have important implications for understanding obesity trends in the United States.

In results published online March 18 by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment — the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals — monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet. In humans, this would be equivalent to a 200-pound man gaining 96 pounds.

“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” …

Continue reading. And avoid ALL food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup—and it’s EVERYwhere, including rice vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Read the ingredients, folks. (And thank the Democrats that the ingredients are even listed.)

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 11:55 am

What about the GOP court cases against HCR?

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David Weigel in the Washington Independent:

The moment that the House of Representatives passed the health care reform bill, 10 Republican state attorneys general were ready for it. Early Monday morning, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced plans to sue on the grounds that the federal government was abusing its “power to regulate interstate commerce” by passing a personal mandate for health care. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum agreed, calling the mandate an attempt “to fine or tax someone just for living.” On the surface, conservative opposition to universal health care had dusted itself off and charged right back into the fight.

But beneath the headlines, press releases, petitions and donation drives that followed the historic vote, lawyers and legislators are less confident that health care reform can be repealed — much less that it can be repealed quickly. In Idaho and Tennessee, two states where state opt-outs of the federal mandate have passed (in Idaho, the legislation has even been signed by the governor), the people who will decide whether to challenge the bill are treading more carefully than the rhetoric suggests.

“Everybody needs to take a deep breath,” said Bob Cooper, a spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “This bill is a few thousand pages long. We need some time to review it. We need time to see whether or not it impinges on rights, how so, and whether we can bring a case that has merit. There are serious sanctions for attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits.”

Mae Beavers, a Republican state senator in Tennessee, was also cautious about how to proceed with a health care challenge. Her Tennessee Health Freedom Act sailed through the upper house, becoming a model for pre-emptive opt-out bills in other states. And while she expects a companion bill to move through the lower house, the possibility of an immediate challenge to the reform bill seemed remote.

“Our legislation says that whenever the national health care would start, our citizens will have a choice,” said Beavers. “I assume it would take a while to put together.”

The problem with a challenge, say conservatives, is that the mandate for health care — an idea with origins on the right that has become anathema ever since its implementation in Massachusetts — will not take effect until 2014. Whether attorneys general can successfully challenge the mandate until then is unclear. Thomas Woods, a conservative scholar who is putting the finishing touches on a Regnery-published book about nullification, suggested that challenges to the mandate will be fruitless, working their way through a legal system that has no great record of repealing major legislation.

“If states file legal challenges,” asked Woods, “who do they file them with? The federal courts! I wouldn’t even go to the legal level. From my point of view nullification is a way to announce to the government that your state is ready to engage in civil disobedience. It boils down to this: We are confident that obeying the will of the people means not enforcing this mandate. So what are you going to do now?” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 11:41 am

Obvious question—with obvious answer

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The GOP has consistently said that passing healthcare reform would doom the Democrats in November.

Obvious question: Then why did the GOP fight the legislation so much that not one would vote for it? Wouldn’t they at least not oppose the legislation (though without voting for it) if they truly believed it would hurt the Dems?

As the news stories start to roll out about the benefits of the bill, it’s becoming obvious that this will be a very popular piece of legislation. So it looks as though the GOP were—brace yourself—lying.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 11:32 am

Don Young doesn’t know the meaning of "restraint"

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Erika Bolstad in McClatchy:

Rep. Don Young of Alaska plans to barrel through the Republican Party’s ban on earmarks by submitting requests regardless of his party’s one-year moratorium on the practice.

So will he get any? No one seems to know, because Republicans have never done this before. Young, a prolific earmarker who’s deeply unhappy with the recently enacted GOP ban, so far appears to be the only Republican who’s submitting any requests, which were due late Monday.

This year, Young’s office has received 289 requests totaling $1.4 billion from various groups, communities and boroughs in Alaska, as well as from the state of Alaska, said his spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny. She added that they were still deciding which projects would be recommended, but that those most likely to get a nod would focus on job creation — their contribution to Alaska’s economy — and health care.

"We will be submitting requests as we always have," Kenny said. "Representative Young’s stance is that as long as Alaskans continue to request federal funding for their projects of interest, he will continue requesting that funding on their behalf."

Since the top Republican on each of the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittees won’t budget any earmarks as part of the process, however, it will be Democrats who decide whether earmarks are granted. Young, who’s one of the most senior members of the House, has little to lose by flouting the GOP ban.

Ultimately, the decision on whether Alaska will get any earmarks could filter all the way up to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

Critics long have maintained that the special spending allows powerful lawmakers — not merit — to determine where the money goes. The check on earmarks started earlier this month when Democrats decided to ban earmarks to for-profit companies. They shifted such spending to the Defense Department budget, where small and disadvantaged businesses could present innovative ideas in a competitive bidding process, rather than through earmarks. [This is clearly a result of Nancy Pelosi’s initiative in getting independent investigators working on Congressional ethical complaints—see this article. – LG]

Republicans responded with a one-year, flat-out ban on earmarks in appropriations bills. Privately, some Republican congressmen grumbled, but Young so far has been the only one to say he’ll sidestep the moratorium.

Young, the only congressman known to a generation of Alaskans, is perhaps best known for earmarks in the $286 billion highway bill that he oversaw in 2005 as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The bill contained $452 million for the Gravina Island and Knik Arm spans, which became known nationally as "bridges to nowhere" and came to symbolize the excess of the earmark age.

Because of Young’s prolific earmarking and the skillful earmarking of Republican former Sen. Ted Stevens, earmarks to the state have come to be known by the House Appropriations Committee under the catchphrase "sweaters for salmon."

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2010 at 11:27 am

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