2009 - %3, July

Liberal Dems Say No to Deal on Health Care Reform

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 6:15 PM PDT

This could be a big deal. Fifty-seven liberal House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Henry Waxman, the chair of the House energy and commerce committee, saying they cannot vote for the deal Waxman cut with the Blue Dog Dems, citing the compromise's weak public option provision. It's a short note, but a possible big monkey wrench. Without these votes, the Democrats are far short of a majority.

The letter:

We write to voice our opposition to the negotiated health care reform agreement under consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

We regard the agreement reached by Chairman Waxman and several Blue Dog members of the Committee as fundamentally unacceptable. This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards. Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates - not negotiated rates - is
unacceptable. It would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of "keeping insurance companies honest," and their rates down.

To offset the increased costs incurred by adopting the provisions advocated by the Blue Dog members of the Committee, the agreement would reduce subsidies to low-and middle-income families, requiring them to pay a larger portion oftheir income for insurance premiums, and would impose an unfunded mandate on the states to pay for what were to have been Federal costs.

In short, this agreement will result in the public, both as insurance purchasers and as taxpayers, paying ever higher rates to insurance companies.

We simply cannot vote for such a proposal.

Back to you, Waxman.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Obama's Science Boom

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 4:21 PM PDT

It's been five months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which delivered the largest increase in basic research funding in American history—$21.5 billion.

So what's happening with the science money?

According to The Science Coalition, ARRA research grants are creating new university jobs, creating thousands of research awards, expediting tens of thousands of grant applications, buying equipment, and supporting some $3.5 billion of science-related construction projects for research facilities and capital equipment.

And that's not all. The Department of Energy is establishing 16 Energy Frontier Research Centers on university campuses to accelerate development of new energy technologies. Each center will support a full staff of researchers, technicians, and grad students and postdocs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is using ARRA funds to support the construction of major new academic research facilities in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.

Some 3,000 college students, high school students, and teachers in 49 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, are participating in ARRA-funded summer jobs programs, getting lab experience at the nation's leading biomedical research facilities.


Here's a small sample of projects funded by state:

  • West Virginia: $751,506 to Marshall U in partnership with West Virginia University to support 50 undergrad students and high school science educators for the next two years studying disease processes such as cancer and cardiovascular disease
  • Minnesota: $362,400 to the U of Minnesota to create jobs and encourage students from minority and underserved communities to pursue careers in health-related sciences, including internships in cancer research for 10 undergrads and high school teacher training in cancer biology
  • Ohio: federal stimulus money is fueling 15 NIH research projects at the Ohio State U this summer and supporting the lab work of five central Ohio science teachers and 49 students high school and college students
  • Tennessee: $1.5 million ARRA grant to the U of Memphis to fund a six-year program to recruit, train, and support secondary education math and science teachers for the Memphis City Schools
  • Michigan: $900,000 grant to Michigan Technological University to train 24 students and 12 professionals to teach STEM disciplines in high schools
  • California: a grant to the U of California Santa Barbara Cal Teach program providing $10,000 fellowships for 75 teacher candidates pursuing masters degrees
  • North Carolina: a $17.5 million grant to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for a center focusing on developing solar fuels from next-generation photovoltaic technology, supporting about 30 postdocs and grad students
  • Massachusetts: a $19 million grant to fund the Center for Excitonics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, looking towards new materials for converting solar energy to electricity and for electrical energy storage
  • Michigan: $19.5 million to the U of Michigan to study solar energy research, supporting 22 researchers studying nanoscale materials to determine their potential for converting solar energy into electricity
  • Missouri: $20 million to Washington University in St. Louis to establish the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center to study forms of energy based on the principles of light harvesting and energy funneling, plus educational outreach to K-12, undergrad, and grad levels
  • Florida: $15 million to the U of Miami toward a Marine Technology and Life Science Seawater Research Building
  • Alabama: $14 million to Auburn U toward the development of a Center for Advanced Science, Innovation and Commerce
  • Texas: $11 million to Rice U toward the new Brockman Hall for Physics
  • North Carolina: $15 million to the U of North Carolina Wilmington for a new facility for the Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina program


And more:
 

The Beer Summit

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 4:07 PM PDT

So what's going on today?  Let's check in with the paper of record:

New York Times reporters Helene Cooper, Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny are live-blogging the so-called beer summit....

Sweet Jesus.  The Times has assigned not one, not two, but three separate highly paid reporters to liveblog this?  Just shoot me now.  Still, since I'm not part of the solution I guess I'm part of the problem.  So I might as well listen in:

Helene Cooper: During the brief time that the press could watch the goings-on, Mr. Biden leaned across the table towards Sgt. Crowley and said something. At another point, Sgt. Crowley gesturing with his hands, said something to Professor Gates.

....Jeff Zeleny: This is not the first time Mr. Obama has turned to beer for a photo opportunity....A little more than a year ago, as Mr. Obama sought to win over working-class voters during the Indiana primary, he turned up in North Liberty, Ind., and walked into VFW Post 1954, where a Coors Light clock was hanging on the wall.

....Update: Sgt. Crowley plans to have a news conference at 7:30.

....Helene Cooper: Everyone is getting along so far, the official said.

....Helene Cooper: Five people — all white — including a young boy and two older teenage girls, arrived at the West Wing gate at around 4:45 p.m....As they passed a group of cameramen, one yelled out: “Not to be rude, but can you say who you are?” The response: “Not who you think.”

....“How much is this costing the taxpayers?” — Paul

Jeff Zeleny: The White House is buying the beer, but that’s it.

Please make it stop.

U.N. Green Think Tank in SF?

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 3:50 PM PDT

San Francisco's famously beleaguered Hunters Point neighborhood is set to become the new home for a $20 million U.N. green technology think tank, Mayor Gavin Newsom's office announced today:

The proposed center would be part of the United Nations "Global Compact" and would be focused on promoting sustainable and clean technologies. A UN Global Compact Center would likely include a clean tech business incubator, offices of the UN Global Compact, and a retreat / conference center to facilitate the exchange of sustainability best practices and other innovations related to combating global warming.

Besides the obvious global merits of a world-class green think tank, there are local advantages as well, namely, much needed jobs in a poor section of town. But some neighborhood advocates are worried that if the city rushes to finish this ambitious 80,000-square-foot project by its 2012 target date, the neighborhood, which has been designated a Superfund site and holds a third of San Francisco's toxic waste sites, won't get the clean-up it's been promised:

Malik Looper, executive director of the Hunters Point nonprofit Literacy for Environmental Justice that works with neighborhood youth, said the U.N. center sounds like a fine idea, but he's more concerned that the land it's built on be thoroughly cleaned first. The Navy has said it will cap some parts of the land rather than fully excavate the toxics, which Looper said may be insufficient.

"The big issue in my mind is resolving the matter around what standards will be adhered to in terms of the cleanup, and until that matter is resolved, it's hard for me to be excited about a press release about a potential partnership," he said.

Another hurdle is the $20 million price tag. According to the S.F. Chronicle, Lennar Corp., the developer that is currently working on the Hunters Point revitalization efforts, will provide infrastructure and land, but the city will have to come up with the rest of the money on its own. Commenters over at S.F. Gate are already skeptical. One says, "$20 mil. to get it started, how much more to keep it running? This venture has fraud, abuse, and "gettin' over" written all over it." Given the 49ers stadium mess, the eyebrow raising is understandable.

There's no doubt that this is an exciting and potentially really cool project. The question going forward: Will the city be able to spin this project right, garner public support, and secure funding, and keep its promise to clean up the toxic waste?

Quote of the Day

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 3:26 PM PDT

From an entrepreneur in the Middle East:

The financiers are the most important since they organize and plan the big shot operations and are able to pay running cost[s]. Financiers always need to forge deals with traders, land cruiser owners, translators, business people to keep the supplies flowing during operations and manage the logistics.  There is a long supply chain involved in every hijacking.

Hijacking?  What kind of new finance biz lingo is this?  This guy sounds like a wannabe Somali pirate or something. What kind of business is he in, anyway?

Hostages — especially Westerners — are our only assets, so we try our best to avoid killing them.  It only comes to that if they refuse to contact the ship’s owners or agencies.  Or if they attack us and we need to defend ourselves.

Oh.

(Via Armed Liberal.)

A Modest Proposal For Madoff Vics: Reality TV

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 1:56 PM PDT

If there's one way to close wounds in modern day America, it's through reality TV. Even the most heinous individuals can build a following with some support from a cable network. And sadly, they can turn a profit too. For the thousands of Madoff victims out there who never want to hear the name Bernie Madoff again, I have a modest proposal that could resupply their empty IRA coffers with a fresh infusion of cash. People, listen to this: Think Oz meets Survivor meets Arrested Development. It's the stuff of genius.

Let's follow Bernie as he paints signs at his new gig and talks about the days of old. Let's watch him bitch about eating frozen peas. Admittedly, this idea came to me when I disgustedly read that Bernie has become a prison celebrity, and that his fellow residents in the Big House constantly ask him for autographs. (Somehow, just as he "excelled" in business, it appears that he's doing pretty well in prison too...paying off the guards perhaps? Or just his fellow inmates?) Justice in the eyes of the law may involve paying restitution, but since $50 billion has just disappeared, why not use more creative means to help those victims who are otherwise SOL?

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Fighting Copyright Infringement With A Smile

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 1:48 PM PDT

This week, the Associated Press announced that it was developing a system to "protect news content from unauthorized use online," i.e., set up some kind of DRM for its articles. To explain just how it plans to eliminate cutting and pasting, the Second Pillar of the Internet (you know what the first one is), it released this helpful clip-art laden graphic:

 

Got it? My takeaway is that authorized news "users" will be able to "mash up" AP stories in what looks like a barrel of radioactive waste. Unauthorized news users will be found via a "tracking beacon" and then subject to "enforcement." That makes it sound like the AP is going to go all RIAA on news aggregators and clip-happy bloggers, but tech types say it's hyping its proposed system's capabilities. 

Ironic Sans' David Friedman has a far simpler idea. Noting a recent study that "discovered that people are more honest when eyes are watching them, even if the eyes are fake," he suggests that the AP embed an emoticon-style face in each of its stories:

It’s the Smiley as copy protection. The AP could come up with their own set of ascii eyes, brand it, and include it in every dateline from now on. They could even pretend it has some other official function, like it symbolizes the AP keeping its eyes out for news. But people would see it and know what it means: “This is an AP article. Please don’t steal it unless you would do so even with your own mother watching.”

Brilliant. (Not that it would stop Shepard Fairey from swiping AP photos with eyes in them.) Now please don't copy this post without permission. ;)

Breaking: Rove Had Hand in US Attorney Firings

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 1:23 PM PDT

The Washington Post has obtained emails showing that Karl Rove, top political advisor to former President George W. Bush, played a significant role in the firing of a number of US attorneys for political reasons. You should go read the Post story 1) if, for some reason, this surprises you, 2) to laugh as a number of Rove's statements are directly contradicted by the facts, and 3) to get the full details.

One quick, journalism-related note on the story. Marcy Wheeler is right that while none of this "is even remotely surprising" it "does suggest we'll have these documents... in the relatively near future." That's great. But I would just point out that if the Washington Post followed the lead of the US attorneys' scandal godfathers at Talking Points Memo—or Mother Jones' own, similar practices—we'd already have those documents. The Post would have put them online so that members of the public could look at the source material and judge for themselves. But it's not like the Post is in the business of informing the public or anything.

Lou Dobbs, the Birthers and the Cable News Crack-Up

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 1:09 PM PDT

A few years back, during the height of illegal immigration-mania, I spent a considerable amount of time for this magazine with the man who seemed to stand for the great fear that this nation was under attack from across the border, that we were losing control of our sovereignty, and that our national agenda was being determined by Mexican President Vicente Fox. That man was Lou Dobbs.

Truth to tell, I kind of liked Dobbs. During our time together—which included staff meetings and live broadcasts, after-work drinks and even a trip to a Hispanic journalists’ convention in Miami—I found Dobbs to be terribly myopic but also blunt, a man who knew he had come from little and now appreciated that he had a lot. He called me pard’ner and loved a dirty martini.

Now, with Dobbs’ border war on the brink of irrelevancy, he has returned to the limelight with another grave concern—the birth certificate of President Barack Obama. The so-called "birther" movement, which demands that Barack Obama prove that he’s really, um, an American citizen, has been debunked by every sane political journalist, as well as officials from the Hawaii Department of Health. But it’s become the centerpiece of Dobbs’ nightly news program and his daily radio broadcast.

Towns Punts on Countrywide Probe

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 12:45 PM PDT

I wrote yesterday that Rep. Edolphus Towns had a big decision to make over whether he would join in on Darrell Issa's Countrywide investigation. Well, he's made his decision, opting to steer clear of this politically fraught inquiry. In addition to being busy investigating other financial crisis-related matters, Towns told the AP that VIP loans handed out to Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (and potentially other congressional lawmakers) are "the subject of current proceedings before the Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee and it is not appropriate for the committee to interfere with those proceedings."

What's Issa's next move? Slamming Towns for protecting "his friends" for starters. He's also taken his Countrywide campaign to Twitter, asking followers, "What do YOU think Congress should do about this? (Sweetheart mortgages to members of Congress NOT being investigated?)" Towns may have declined his support, but don't expect Issa, who's been bird-dogging this for more than a year, to let this go anytime soon. Personally, I don't care who investigates Countrywide's favorable financing for lawmakers, but someone needs to—and it's unclear whether the notoriously meek Senate ethics committee, which is presently looking into loans made to Dodd and Conrad, is up to the task.

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