Later On

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

Archive for January 13th, 2017

Big Sugar’s Secret Ally? Nutritionists

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Gary Taubes in the NY Times:

The first time the sugar industry felt compelled to “knock down reports that sugar is fattening,” as this newspaper put it, it was 1956. Papers had run a photograph of President Dwight D. Eisenhower sweetening his coffee with saccharin, with the news that his doctor had advised him to avoid sugar if he wanted to remain thin.

The industry responded with a national advertising campaign based on what it believed to be solid science. The ads explained that there was no such thing as a “fattening food”: “All foods supply calories and there is no difference between the calories that come from sugar or steak or grapefruit or ice cream.”

More than 60 years later, the sugar industry is still making the same argument, or at least paying researchers to do it for them. The stakes have changed, however, with a near tripling of the prevalence of obesity in the intervening decades and what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures reveal to be an almost unimaginable 655 percent increase in the percentage of Americans with diabetes diagnoses. When it comes to weight gain, the sugar industry and purveyors of sugary beverages still insist, a calorie is a calorie, regardless of its source, so guidelines that single out sugar as a dietary evil are not evidence-based.

Another way to say this is that what we eat doesn’t matter; it’s only how much — just as the sugar industry would have us believe. A 2014 article in an American Diabetes Association journal phrased the situation this way: “There is no clear or convincing evidence that any dietary or added sugar has a unique or detrimental impact relative to any other source of calories on the development of obesity or diabetes.”

The absence of evidence, though, as the saying goes, is not necessarily evidence of absence. If the research community had been doing its job and not assuming since the 1920s that a calorie is a calorie, perhaps we would have found such evidence long ago.

The assumption ignores decades of medical science, including much of what has become textbook endocrinology (the science of hormones and hormone-related diseases) and biochemistry. By the 1960s, researchers in these fields had clearly demonstrated that different carbohydrates, like glucose and fructose, are metabolized differently, leading to different hormonal and physiological responses, and that fat accumulation and metabolism were influenced profoundly by these hormones. The unique composition of sugar — half glucose, half fructose — made it a suspect of particular interest even then.

The takeaway is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 10:07 pm

What healthcare was like before the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare

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Paul Waldman looks back down memory lane:

At his CNN town hall yesterday, Paul Ryan met a man named Jeff Jeans, a lifelong Republican and small business owner who not long ago got a cancer diagnosis. He didn’t have insurance at the time and was told that without treatment he’d have only six weeks to live.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I’m standing here today alive,” he said. “I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart, because I would be dead if it weren’t for him.”

Let’s not mince words: If Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republicans in Congress get their way, people like Jeff Jeans will die.

That sounds like hyperbole, like unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric. But it’s the truth. These are literally life-and-death questions Congress is deciding.

There are a lot of reasons why repealing the ACA is going to be a disaster. But for now I want to focus on just one: what’s going to happen to the estimated 52 million Americans who have pre-existing conditions, like Jeff Jeans?

To begin, let’s remember what it was like before the ACA was passed. When you applied for insurance, you had to give a detailed accounting of every major medical procedure you’d ever had, every serious condition you’d ever had, every time you had sought treatment for anything for years prior. The insurer would comb over your application to see if there was any grounds on which they could reject you. That didn’t just apply to people with chronic conditions like diabetes or a major illness like cancer. In the bad old days, insurers could deny you coverage for anything. Tore some cartilage in your knee on the basketball court a few years ago? Denied. Had sinus problems? Denied. Carpal tunnel? Denied. If you were lucky, they’d cover you but just refuse to pay for anything remotely related to your old condition or that particular body part.

And when you did get sick, they’d sometimes undertake a “recission,” in which they went back through your records to see if there was any excuse they could use to cancel your policy now that you were going to cost them money. Check out this account from journalist Xeni Jardin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the ACA took effect. During one chemotherapy session, someone from the billing department pulled her aside and told her, “Your insurance company has opened a fraud investigation because they believe you had cancer as a pre-existing condition.” Imagine dealing with that while you’re fighting for your life.

Now here’s how getting insurance works today, with the Affordable Care Act in effect, if you have a pre-existing condition. See if you can follow along, because it’s pretty complicated:

You buy coverage. The insurer doesn’t ask you about your medical history. It’s covered. That’s all.

Here’s a list of some things that will return once they repeal the ACA: . . .

Continue reading. It’s pretty horrifying. And do read the whole thing. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 9:04 pm

Kevin Drum looks at what Friday the 13th has wrought this time

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His post begins:

One of the benefits of being sick—oh, bollocks. There are no benefits to being sick. However, with a couple of short interludes, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon today, which is 4:30 for you elitist East Coasters. That means I missed the whole day. So when I finally felt well enough to reach over to the table for my tablet, I was able to take in the entire glorious panorama of 2017’s first Friday the 13th all at once. I shall now present it to you approximately as I experienced it. . .

Read the whole thing. It’s really excellent: a USA-type snapshot of one day’s events. (I’m referring to the John Dos Passos trilogy, highly recommended.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 8:56 pm

NSA can now share surveillance data on individuals

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The new rule allows the sharing of “raw” data—data with no privacy protection. You are totally identifiable. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

n its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions. . .

Continue reading.

Trump will obviously have access anyway. Wonder how he will use it. He’s a vindictive man who lashes out, and this should give him some good ammunition. Is he such a person as would likely do it? Sure seems so to me.

Later:

Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

The ACLU is fighting to protect your rights. Support them. (I make a monthly donation.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 7:58 pm

Trump transition team at work: Head of D.C. National Guard to be removed from post in middle of inauguration

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“Vindictive” doesn’t touch it. “Cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes closer. Peter Hermann and Aaron Davis report in the Washington Post:

The Army general who heads the D.C. National Guard and has an integral part in overseeing the inauguration said Friday that he will be removed from command effective at 12:01 p.m. Jan. 20, just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz’s departure will come in the middle of the presidential ceremony — classified as a national special security event — and while thousands of his troops are deployed to help protect the nation’s capital during an inauguration he has spent months helping to plan.

“The timing is extremely unusual,” Schwartz said in an interview Friday morning, confirming a memo announcing his ouster that was obtained by The Washington Post. During the inauguration, Schwartz will command not only members of the D.C. Guard but also 5,000 unarmed troops dispatched from across the country to help. He also will oversee military air support protecting Washington during the inauguration.

“My troops will be on the street,” said Schwartz, who turned 65 in October. “I’ll see them off, but I won’t be able to welcome them back to the armory.” He said he would “never plan to leave a mission in the middle of a battle.”

Unlike in the states, where the governor appoints the National Guard commander, in the District that duty falls to the president.

Military officials and Trump transition officials provided contradictory versions of the decision to replace Schwartz. As is customary for presidential appointees, the general submitted a letter of resignation to give the new administration a clean start.

Two military officials with knowledge of the situation said the Trump team decided to accept the resignation. A person close to the transition said transition officials wanted to keep Schwartz in the job for continuity, but the Army pushed to replace him. . .

Continue reading.

Whom do you believe? The Trump transition team? Not likely.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 7:45 pm

Some bad indications of trouble ahead regarding cooperative intelligence-gathering

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Ronen Bergman reports in Haaretz:

Israeli intelligence officials are concerned that the exposure of classified information to their American counterparts under a Trump administration could lead to their being leaked to Russia and onward to Iran, investigative journalist Ronen Bergman reported by Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Thursday.

The intelligence concerns, which have been discussed in closed forums recently, are based on suspicions of unreported ties between President-elect Donald Trump, or his associates, and the government of Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

As Russian intelligence is associated with intelligence officials in Tehran, highly classified information, such as Israel’s clandestine methods of operation and intelligence sources, could potentially reach Iran. Such information has been shared with the United States in the past.

American intelligence officials expressed despair at the election of Trump during a recent meeting with their Israeli counterparts, Bergman reported. They said that they believed that Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump, though they did not elaborate. The American media reported on Wednesday that Russia has embarrassing intelligence about the president-elect.

According to Bergman, the American intelligence officials implied that Israel should “be careful” when transferring intelligence information to the White House and the National Security Council (NSC) following Trump’s inauguration – at least until it is clear that Trump does not have inappropriate connections with Russia.

Cooperation between the Israeli and U.S. intelligence communities has intensified over the past two decades, with most of the joint operations directed, according to reports, against Iran. Hezbollah and Hamas were also intelligence targets. An official agreement in 2008 for comprehensive cooperation, including the exposure of sources and methods of action, reportedly led to impressive results, including the disruption of the Iranian nuclear program. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 6:56 pm

Outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says net neutrality is not dead

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Klint Finley reports in Wired:

REPUBLICANS HAVE BEEN fighting to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules since before they were even passed in 2015. They may finally get their wish. The party will soon control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the FCC itself. But on the eve of his resignation as chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, who ushered in the rules, says it’s not too late to save net neutrality.

“Vigilance to protect things that we enjoy today must be our watchword,” said Wheeler in a speech at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, today. The Obama appointee plans to resign his post on Inauguration Day next week.

Net neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, and that internet service providers shouldn’t be able to discriminate against certain types of traffic. In other words, the Comcasts and Verizons of the world shouldn’t be able to block Skype or other voice calling applications in order to advantage their own telephone services, nor should they be able to slow down Netflix or other streaming video sites in order to promote their own television packages. In early 2015, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order, which reclassified internet service providers as utility-like common carriers and forbid them from blocking or throttling sites.

The Open Internet Order was met with praise from consumer advocacy groups, but the telecommunications industry has always argued that the rules amounted to over-regulation. Republican FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly have made no secret of their desire to roll back many of the regulations passed under Wheeler. “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” Pai said at an event in Washington, DC, last month.

“President-elect Trump has repeatedly noted the detrimental impact of the current stifling regulatory environment on the American economy overall, and he has promised fast relief,” O’Rielly said at the same event.

But Wheeler says it’s not that easy for the FCC to overturn established rules. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the commissioners will need to explain what has changed in the past two years since the Open Internet Order was passed to justify a revoking in the regulations. The telecommunications industry has argued that the net neutrality regulations would kill investment in infrastructure. But a report by the telco industry group US Telecom paints a different picture. Yes, the industry spent about a billion less in 2015 than in 2014. But it spent more in 2015 than it did 2013. Internet providers are expected to ramp up investments further in coming years as they build 5G wireless networks. “So where’s the fire?” Wheeler asks. “Other than the desires of a few (internet service providers) to be free of meaningful oversight, why the sudden rush to undo something that is demonstrably working?”

Less Protection

The bigger threat, according to Wheeler, is that Congress will pass laws that pre-empt the FCC’s regulations while offering less protection. For example, the Thune/Upton net neutrality bill. It would ban internet providers from creating so-called “slow lanes” on the internet. But it wouldn’t stop companies from exempting sites or apps from data limits, a practice known as zero rating, which has become the biggest threat to net neutrality. This week, the FCC told Congressthat zero-rated services from AT&T and Verizon, both of which allow their own video services to bypass customers’ data caps, violate the Open Internet Order. But the FCC’s Republicans had already told AT&T and Verizon not to worry about the FCC’s findings until after the inauguration.

Protecting net neutrality from loophole-laden bills will require citizens to be vigilant. But net neutrality advocates could have some powerful companies on their side. “The ability of consumers and businesses to connect to and use open broadband networks is essential to the 21st century economy,” Wheeler says. “The delivery of products and services that will define our future requires gatekeeper-free access to networks.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 5:57 pm

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