2012 - %3, March

Lots of Countries Don't Require Prescriptions for Oral Contraceptives

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 12:59 AM EDT

A few days ago I wrote a post about whether oral contraceptives ought to be available without a prescription. They're pretty safe, it turns out, and several studies suggest that women are a whole lot more likely to use them continuously if they don't have to go in for a doctor's exam every year and aren't limited to buying just a month's supply at a time. Anna Reisman adds some more detail to this issue today, but the most intriguing bit came at the very end of her post. It's a link to a map showing where oral contraceptives require a prescription and where they don't. Here it is:

Here's what's interesting: although prescriptions are required in most of the rich world, there are plenty of middling-income countries where they aren't, including Portugal, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Greece, Turkey, South Korea, Russia, and several others. Surely this means that loads of data is available about health outcomes where prescriptions aren't required. Do women in Portugal have a greater number of dangerous pill-related interactions than women in Spain? Do women in South Korea have more allergic reactions than women in Japan? Do women in Greece have more problems with antibiotics than women in Italy?

It's not surprising that rich countries have more formal regulations in place than less-rich countries. But surely this provides us with a wealth of information about whether there are any systematic negative effects from allowing women access to over-the-counter oral contraceptives. So where are the studies?

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Rush Goes X Files on Me and "Showdown"

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 10:31 PM EDT
Rush Limbaugh.

My new book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, which comes out Tuesday, generated a burst of media attention on Monday. Huffington Post published an excerpt in which House Speaker John Boehner flees the Grand Bargain deficit-reduction talks with President Obama after House GOP colleagues warn Boehner that House majority leader Eric Cantor is poised to lead a mutiny against the speaker. Politico summed up a few of the more gripping moments in the book, including a meeting in which Obama expresses frustration with the Fox News-driven political culture. (Drudge linked!) Mediaite also picked up this Fox News tidbit, and Fox News' Bret Baier pushed back. USA Today zeroed in on a portion of the book in which Obama compares himself to the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post dissected the book's account of Obama's pivot toward deficit reduction. Paul Krugman responded to Sargent's post.

And then there was Rush Limbaugh. Referring to a Washington Post article published this past weekend on the collapse of last summer's Grand Bargain talks (casting the Post piece as more negative toward the president than it was), the recently-besieged talk show host suggested that my book was part of some dark conspiracy related to that article. "The plot thickens," he huffed. I believe he's suggesting that a book a year in the making (which has a slightly different take on that episode) was cooked up and released this very week to counter a newspaper story. But it's hard to tell. At least he didn't call me a slut.

Listen:

 

The WaPo's Debt Ceiling Nothingburger

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 9:59 PM EDT

So I finally got around to reading this weekend's big Washington Post tick tock about last year's debt ceiling negotiations. Jon Chait goaded me into it by writing a post saying that everyone was missing the real bombshell in the piece. Yes, the deal traded $800 billion in tax increases for $1.7 trillion in spending cuts. Nothing new there. Yes, the deal got derailed after the "Gang of Six" unveiled a more ambitious proposal that suggested Republicans could live with more than $800 billion in tax increases. Nothing new there either. The real news, he says, was that the $800 billion in revenues was mostly just a phantom in the first place, and Obama was willing to sell out the left by accepting this:

In Boehner’s offer Friday night, the taxes came with strings attached. The Republicans wanted Obama to give up plans to raise the tax rate paid by the wealthiest Americans, now set at 35 percent. Instead, they wanted that rate to go down....Another key caveat: Much of the $800 billion would have to come from overhauling the tax code — not from higher tax rates. The Republicans believed lower rates and a simpler code would generate new revenue by discouraging cheating and spurring economic growth. If the White House would agree to count that money, the Republican leaders said, then they might have a deal.

That last condition was a problem. For years, Democrats have mocked the Republican argument that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting the economy....So there were issues to work out that Sunday but also reason for optimism. In its counterproposal, the White House appeared to accept the $800 billion tax offer and a lower top rate....When Boehner brought up economic growth, arguing that his caucus would not accept tax increases under any other terms, the Republicans saw Geithner as receptive, Jackson said. “It was literally one of the last things discussed when they came in on that Sunday. And Geithner said, ‘Yes, we accept that,’ ” Jackson recalled. “We viewed it as a breakthrough.”

On this point, the two sides are in dispute. Geithner and other administration officials say it never happened. They strenuously deny agreeing to count revenue from economic growth, a process known as “dynamic scoring.” Treasury spokeswoman Jenni LeCompte said the Republicans “were kidding themselves” if they thought the White House would concede that point. “That’s always been a total non-starter for Secretary Geithner and this administration and always will be,” she said.

Meh. The story doesn't say that Obama accepted the notion that the new revenue would mostly come from dynamic scoring. It says the two sides disagree about who accepted what. Big surprise. And anyway, even this isn't new. Here's Jay Newton-Small a few days after the deal fell apart:

Late last Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner and his No. 2, majority leader Eric Cantor, found themselves in White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley’s West Wing office talking with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about how tax reform, if done right, could produce $800 billion in new revenues over the next 10 years through growth and by closing loopholes. Sensitive to an anti-tax promise taken by most of the House Republicans, the negotiators felt this would be a way to raise revenues without breaking the pledge.

In other words, Cantor was hellbent on raising revenue without breaking the Republicans' no-higher-taxes pledge. Instead, some of the additional revenue would come via higher growth and some would come from broadening the tax base by closing loopholes and reducing tax expenditures. Did they end up agreeing on this? Nobody knows.

To be honest, I'm not sure there's anything new in the WaPo piece. There are a few details here and there, and a bit more recreated dialog, but nothing substantive. It's the same story we've heard from the very beginning: It was a lousy deal; the revenue increases were dubious; it got derailed after the Gang of Six released its plan and Obama asked Boehner for more revenue; and it got scuttled completely when Boehner refused to accept Obama's offer to go back to the original deal. Unless I'm missing something, we already knew all this.

It is Now Officially OK to Make World War II References

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 5:44 PM EDT

Earlier today, David Axelrod described Mitt Romney's wall-to-wall advertising campaign in Illinois as a Mittzkrieg. The Romney campaign immediately cranked up the high dudgeon meter to 11:

At a time when there is so much talk about the need for civility in political discourse, it is disturbing to see President Obama's top campaign advisor casually throw Nazi imagery around in reference to a Republican candidate for President. Holocaust and Nazi imagery are always inappropriate in the political arena. Axelrod should apologize for his offensive language.

We call on Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to publicly rebuke Axelrod for his language. We hope that the National Jewish Democratic Council will join us in denouncing Axelrod's comment, as they have frequently denounced Holocaust imagery in politics in the past.

That's it. I've had enough. I officially declare that it's now OK to use World War II imagery anytime you want. It's OK to make Nazi references. It's OK to compare people to Hitler. Go ahead! You have my blessing.

This whole thing is ridiculous, and I'm sick of it from all sides. WWII references are handy shorthand because everyone immediately understands them. There's nothing wrong with this. If you go overboard, people will mock you. If your analogies are wrong, people will correct you. If you literally say that someone is as bad as Hitler, you will be called an idiot. (Unless, of course, you're really talking about someone as bad as Hitler. But that's a pretty short list.) But the mere fact that you used a WWII/Hitler reference? Not an issue any longer.

It's probably still wise to take it easy on Holocaust imagery. But merely making a comparison of some modern-day event to something that happened in WWII, or something that Hitler did, or some well-known practice of Nazi Germany? If it's the obvious analogy to use, then use it. And let's all quit the pearl clutching, OK?

The eBooks are Too Damn Expensive!

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 5:07 PM EDT

I got an iPad last week, and I intend to use it primarily as a book reader. Naturally I wanted to download a book and try it out, so I bought Matt Yglesias's new Kindle single, The Rent is Too Damn High. So far, I'm very pleased with the book-reading abilities of the iPad1, but I wonder if publishers are setting too high a price for these miniature volumes? Matt's book is $3.99, and in one sense that's cheap. It's about the price of a magazine, and has a roughly similar amount of content. On the other hand, you could also say it's more similar to a single magazine article — a long one, granted — and people aren't generally willing to pay four bucks for one article.

Unless you're a big name, or you happen to generate some serious buzz, it seems as if these kinds of books might do better as impulse buys. Maybe 99 cents, or $1.99. On the other hand, the real investment here is time more than money, and for anyone willing to spend three or four hours reading something like this, three or four dollars shouldn't be much of a hurdle.

I guess I'm not sure. Maybe all I really wanted was a chance to write the headline for this post. But I'm curious to get some feedback. Has price ever deterred you from downloading any Kindle singles? Or is this a non-issue?

1My big problem with the original Kindle was that it sucked for nonfiction books. Tables, charts, and images of all sorts rendered so badly as to be nearly illegible. But the Kindle app for the iPad appears to have solved this problem. My test case was A Farewell to Alms, and although some of the images were surprisingly low-res, they were all readable. And the tables were all readable too: columns actually lined up properly and pages are big enough to have enough to room show the entire thing. So far, so good.

Romney Repeats Favorite Obama Conspiracy Theories

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 4:58 PM EDT

I'm not even sure if I understand the attacks on the Obama administration's energy and environmental policies from Mitt Romney at a speech in Chicago on Monday (via TPM). First, there was this line, which is an oft-repeated fallacy among Republicans:

And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that.

The Obama administration did no such thing. The Department of Energy is merely following through with the phase-out of inefficient bulbs under new standards set as part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. It doesn't "ban" Edison's incandescent bulbs—it only requires that they be as energy-efficient as alternatives now on the market. Oh, and it was President George W. Bush who signed that bill into law. But Republicans have been flogging the bulb issue for three years, so I'm not surprised that Romney brought it up.

It's this later line from Romney's speech I find rather confusing:

President Obama hopes to erase his record with a speech. In a recent address, he said that, “We are inventors. We are builders. We are makers of things. We are Thomas Edison. We are the Wright Brothers. We are Bill Gates. We are Steve Jobs."
The reality is that, under President Obama’s administration, these pioneers would have found it much more difficult, if not impossible, to innovate, invent, and create.
Under Dodd-Frank, they would have struggled to get loans from their community banks.
A regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their "dust pollution."

The last line repeats the false allegation that the Obama EPA is regulating dust. It's not. Nor does it plan to any time soon. But what does that have to do with the Wright brothers? Is he referring to "crop dusters," the small planes used on farms? If so, he really must have no idea what they are, because the "dust" that he refers to is usually pesticides or fertilizers, not actual dust. I'll take this as an indication that Romney has never been to an actual farm.

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Santorum: 'I'm Praying' for Dan Savage Who 'Has Serious Issues'

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 4:54 PM EDT
Rick Santorum and Dan Savage.

RealClearReligion posted an interview with Rick Santorum on Monday in which the reporter asked the candidate about Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist who held a contest in 2003 to redefine the word "Santorum." Savage started the contest after the Pennsylvania senator controversially said the "definition of marriage" never included "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." The winning redefinition in Savage's contest for Santorum was, famously, "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex."

Savage's redefinition took hold, so much so that his "Spreading Santorum" site quickly became one of the top three Google search results for Santorum's name. It's since dropped to the eighth result, but the GOP contender still has a major Google problem.

Asked what he'd say to Savage if the two met, Santorum replied:

I would tell him that I'm praying for him. He obviously has some serious issues. You look at someone like that who can say and do the things that he's doing and you just pray for him and hopefully he can find peace.

I emailed Savage to see what he had to say about that. He wrote back:

Rick Santorum thinks that women who have been raped should be compelled—by force of law—to carry the babies of their rapists to term, he thinks birth control should be illegal, he wants to prosecute pornographers, etc., etc., basically the guy wants to be president so that he can micromanage the sex lives of all Americans...and I'm the one with issues? Because I made a dirty joke at his expense eight or nine years ago and it stuck? I'm the one with issues?

Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Rick can pray for me. I'll gay for him. And we can call it even.

Liberals Started the Culture War, and We Should Be Proud of Continuing It

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 3:12 PM EDT
1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Ed Kilgore writes a post today mocking right-wing fear of betrayal by insufficiently dedicated conservative judges, a brand of paranoia that got its start with Eisenhower's appointments of Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Supreme Court:

These disasters (from a conservative point of view) were hardly isolated. Richard Nixon appointed Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun; Gerald Ford's brief presidency produced long-time Supreme Court liberal John Paul Stevens, and Poppy Bush put the ultimate Stealth Liberal, David Souter, on the High Court, an act for which the later nomination of Clarence Thomas was a very loud apology. Worse yet, St. Ronald Reagan was responsible for Sandra Day O'Connor, and depending on where Anthony Kennedy lands on a series of big upcoming cases, his appointment, too, could wind up earning a conservative Day of Infamy.

You'd have to say everything about Mitt Romney makes him suspect as the kind of Republican president who might make an insufficiently right-wing Court appointment. And this is precisely why I'd bet the farm (if I had one) that by the time November rolls around the Federalist Society wing of the conservative movement will have extracted so many private and public blood oaths from Romney on the subject that should he even think about a less-than-orthodox nominee, Satan would appear in the West Wing and snatch Mitt right down to hell.

It's actually sort of unfair to ridicule this. The truth is that by 1990 conservatives had very good reason to be tired of "conservative" Supreme Court nominations that turned out to be either moderate or downright liberal. Souter was the last straw, especially since his nomination was viewed as caving in to liberal attacks on a genuine conservative, Robert Bork. If the shoe were on the other foot, liberals would feel the same way. I would, anyway.

In a way, though, that's why I think Ed is wrong in his conclusion. The Bork/Ginsburg/Thomas trifecta, combined with a long history of moderate appointments, came to a head in the early 90s. Since then, there's been no daylight among Republicans on the need to nominate only absolutely reliable conservatives to the Supreme Court. Romney may indeed make both public and private promises on this score, but he won't need any coaxing. Even moderate Republicans are pretty much on board with the movement conservative agenda on Supreme Court nominees.

There is, in a way, a broader unfairness here too. We tend to mock conservatives for endlessly keeping the culture war alive, but the truth is that it was we liberals who started it. We're the ones who, among many, many other things, banned school prayer, legalized abortion, fought for gender equality, and are currently pressing to legalize gay marriage. You'll be unsurprised to learn that I think we were right to do all these things and right to keep fighting for them. But make no mistake: we're the ones demanding change, and we're the ones who keep fighting for it. Every time I hear some liberal complaining about the way that conservatives keep turning everything into a new front in the culture war, I feel a twinge of chagrin. Why are we complaining? We're the ones who really own the culture war, and we should be proud of it. It was a war worth starting and a war worth winning.

Mutant Heat Wave Shattering Records

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 2:18 PM EDT

 NOAA/Southern Regional Climate Center

Credit: NOAA/Southern Regional Climate Center

More than 2,200 warm temperature records have been set so far in March. Take a look at the map above to see where temps are crazy departures from normal.

This isn't your average heat wave. Its duration, set against more than a century of record keeping, makes it one for the climate change chronicles. Here's what some meteorologists are saying:

From the National Weather Service in Chicago: Chicago and Rockford have now both broken high temperature records 5 days in a row. There is even the potential they could tie or break record highs for up to an unbelievable 8 days in a row depending on how warm temperatures get Monday through Wednesday. It is extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day.

From Jeff Masters' Wunderblog: The ongoing March heat wave in the Midwest is one of the most extreme heat events in US history. With so many records being shattered, it is difficult to cover in detail just how widespread, long-lasting, and extreme the event is.

According to the CapitalClimate blog (HT Climate Central) warm weather records this month are outpacing cold records by a whopping 19-to-1. 

Credit: NWS.Credit: NWS.

Take Chicago. You can see in the graph above how radical this year's heat wave is compared with the five other top warmest Marches on record. The hashed black line shows the average month-to-date temps in degrees Celsius for March (convert here). The dotted blue line shows the month-to-date average temps for 2012 based on current predicted temperatures.

The upper Midwest topped out at Winner, South Dakota, yesterday, which hit 94°F—the earliest 90° reading ever recorded in the Northern Plains, according to Jeff Masters. He also points out the high temps aren't stopping at the border. Canada is weathering record-breaking heat too:

Winnipeg, Manitoba broke its record high for the past four days in a row, and hit 21°C (70°F) yesterday, its hottest temperature on record so early in the year. With today's forecast by Environment Canada and wunderground both calling for highs near 25°C (77°F), Winnipeg is likely to record its highest March temperature on record.

 

 

To put what's going on into a bigger perspective, this NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies video shows 131 years of global warming between 1880 and 2011 in 26 seconds. This year looks set to reinforce that accelerating trend. 

And You Wonder Why We're Broke? (Chart)

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 2:02 PM EDT

military spending charts

The International Institute for Strategic Studies

This chart from the International Institute for Strategic Studies—part of the think tank's recent report, "Military Balance 2012," more or less speaks for itself. Supporters of American militarism will look at this and say, "Well, we're spending a smaller proportion of our GDP on warfare than some of these other countries." But look at those countries: They're tiny, and they also happen to reside in a less-than-stable Middle East.

Even if they weren't, I don't buy the whole GDP thing. So we're rich. Does that really mean our military needs to be completely out of proportion with the rest of the world's armies? Would someone care to explain the logic on that? Because this is military imbalance.

To quote the soldier-scholar Andrew Bacevich from an interview I did with him in 2008: "Rather than becoming better at waging imperial wars, we need to move to a nonimperial foreign policy. That argument is not a moral argument—although you could make a moral argument—but a pragmatic one, that the prospect of more such wars is gonna bankrupt us."