2006 - %3, February

Scientists enlist cruise ships to collect oceans data

| Tue Feb. 28, 2006 4:40 PM PST

Speaking of the ocean, AP reports:

Scientists are enlisting cargo ships to measure water temperatures, ocean currents and even the height of clouds in the hope of revealing the oceans' secrets.

Peter Ortner, chief scientist with the Atlantic Ocean Marine Laboratory of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that in order to address questions such as the changing path of the Gulf Stream scientists need more than the few years of data most missions can provide.

The long-term data that commercial ships can yield is what has been historically so difficult to obtain and what the latest project hopes to achieve.

And did we mention that the current issue of Mother Jones has a special report on the fate of the oceans?

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How Medicare Wastes $80 Billion a Year

| Tue Feb. 28, 2006 4:13 PM PST

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy and Research has just put out a new, and easily readable, report arguing that the Bush administration's 2003 Medicare bill will essentially "waste" $800 billion over the next decade because it was so poorly designed. Among other things, Republicans in Congress refused to allow Medicare to use its buying power to bargain down the price of drugs—something that is down in virtually every other industrialized country around the world—which would have saved $600 billion over ten years.

Not only that, but this route would have been much simpler too—all Congress would have had to do was to establish an add-on drug benefit to the existing Medicare program. As Baker notes, the bill was deliberately structured to "ensure that multiple private insurance companies would provide the benefit rather than Medicare." It was great for those insurance companies; bad for everyone else.

It's a good paper, although I suspect Congress could wring even more savings from Medicare if it really wanted to. Baker is only comparing the current program with a more ideal program that would have Medicare run things (saving billions in administrative costs) and bargain down the price of drugs. But you could also eliminate the $86 billion in subsidies that the government is paying to prevent companies from shifting costs onto the government—a mostly ludicrous provision and "pure windfall" for many companies—as well as the $6.4 billion over the next decade to subsidize health savings accounts. A lot of that money could be used to expand the current drug benefit and still have savings left over. In fact, that's exactly what the House Democrats have been proposing all along, and it's a pretty good start.

Will the Birthing Suit Save Lives?

Tue Feb. 28, 2006 4:11 PM PST

The invention of the birthing suit is upon us, and while it may sound silly, this Velcro contraption can save lives of at-risk women in remote locales by preventing haemorrhaging, which causes a third of the 500,000 deaths during delivery a year, can potentially be averted by this new invention.

Assembled from a mass of Velcro and tight fitting material, the reusable suit circulates blood from the legs to the vital organs, thus delivering oxygen. While it is not a permanent solution, it buys time, and according to Sullen Miller, lead researcher at the University of California, "in our research, women who appeared clinically dead, with no blood pressure and no palpable pulse, were resuscitated and kept alive for up to two days while waiting for blood transfusions." This technology could have major effect in developing countries, as the suit requires no medical training to apply, and if it allows enough time to get the appropriate care, can rescue women from deadly situations.

An Anti-Adoption Bill to Get Behind

| Tue Feb. 28, 2006 3:02 PM PST

Via Needlenose, Ohio Democrat Robert Hagan has a modest proposal:

State Sen. Robert Hagan sent out e-mails to fellow lawmakers late Wednesday night, stating that he intends to "introduce legislation in the near future that would ban households with one or more Republican voters from adopting children or acting as foster parents." The e-mail ended with a request for co-sponsorship.

Hagan said his legislation was written in response to a bill introduced in the Ohio House this month by state Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, that… seeks to ban children from being placed for adoption or foster care in homes where the prospective parent or a roommate is homosexual, bisexual or transgender.

To further lampoon Hood's bill, Hagan wrote in his mock proposal that "credible research" shows that adopted children raised in Republican households are more at risk for developing "emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, and alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different than themselves and an air of overconfidence to mask their insecurities."Priceless.

Prison and Debt

| Tue Feb. 28, 2006 1:19 PM PST

The New York Times notes in an editorial today that convicted felons are often saddled with debts from state-mandated legal fees and treatment programs that they can't possibly repay when they leave prison. And very often, until they repay them, they aren't allowed to vote:

Last week, an article by The Times's Adam Liptak introduced us to a disabled woman named Beverly Dubois who lost the right to vote because she could not pay about $1,600 of charges that were assessed in connection with her marijuana conviction. The debt is growing rapidly because of the interest charged by the state. Ms. Dubois, who served nine months in jail, has paid her debt to society. But until she settles the one to the state, she is stripped of her rights as a citizen. Disabled in a car accident, she can send in only $10 per month. At that rate, she is likely to die before paying off the debt.
All that for a "marijuana conviction," already the most asinine charge on the book. Fortunately the federal government spends about $4 billion a year to make sure Ms. Dubois and other pot-smokers have their lives destroyed before they cause any "trouble."

Latest Zogby poll shows 85% of troops think they are in Iraq because of a Saddam/September 11 connection

| Tue Feb. 28, 2006 11:43 AM PST

The lastest LeMoyne College/Zogby poll, released today, is filled with interesting--and in some cases, alarming--information concerning the attitudes of U.S. troops toward the war they are fighting in Iraq. 72% of those responding to the poll said that the U.S. should leave Iraq within the next year, and about 25% said the U.S. should leave Iraq immediately. When asked why some Americans favor immediate troop withdrawal, the breakdown looked like this:

15%--Those Americans do not understand the need for our troops to be in Iraq

16%--Those Americans do not approve of the use of troops in a pre-emptive war

20$--Those Americans do not believe that the continued presence of U.S. troops will accomplish anything

37%--Those Americans are unpatriotic

58% of those serving said the Iraq mission is clear in their minds; 42% said it was somewhat unclear or very unclear to them. 85% said the U.S. is in Iraq to retaliate for Saddam Hussein's role in the September 11 attacks, and 77% said they also believe a major goal of the war is to prevent Saddam from protecting al Qaeda.

Interestingly, 93% of respondents said that the removal of weapons of mass destruction was not a reason for the military presence of the U.S. in Iraq. Also, 80% of the troops responding to the poll said that they did not have a negative view of Iraqis because of attacks by insurgents. 80% were opposed to the use of banned weapons, and 55% said that it is not appropriate to use harsh interrogation methods against insurgents.

Only 30% believe that the Department of Defense failed to provide adequate protection for them.

The survey included 934 respondents interviewed at undisclosed locations throughout Iraq

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House Rules Committee releases scathing report on the selling of America

| Mon Feb. 27, 2006 4:08 PM PST

Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, was on Air America Radio today to discuss the report released last week by her committee--"America For Sale--The Cost of Republican Corruption." Congresswoman Slaughter talked about Medicare, the disputed Halliburton money that has been returned to Halliburton, and the failure of contractors to provide safety for American troops in Iraq.

From the report's executive summary:

The most important thing to know about Washington these days is the following statistic: over the past ten years, the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has grown from around 10,000 to more than 34,000, while the fees that lobbyists charge their new clients have increased by as much as 100 percent. Today there are 63 registered lobbyists for each member of Congress.

The success of The K Street Project, according to the report, has led to "bizarre, outrageous stories that seem more at home in the pulp paperback thrillers of John Grisham or Carl Hiaasen than in the halls of Congress."

Though the new House Majority Leader, John Boehner, was chosen because he was considered farther removed from Rep. Tom DeLay than the acting Majority Leader and presumed frontrunner, Rep. Roy Blunt, Boehner is nevertheless closely tied to K Street. For all the talk of "reform," by electing Boehner, House Republicans have made it clear that they wish to protect and prolong the current system of government by lobbyists.

"America for Sale" goes into great detail on the sale of Medicare, energy security, homeland security, national defense, public health, jobs, and higher education corporate interests. It is not a pleasant read, but it should be a required one.

Can Civil War in Iraq Be Averted?

| Mon Feb. 27, 2006 2:08 PM PST

"Analysts See the Lebanon-ization of Iraq in Crystal Ball," reports the Los Angeles Times. And USA Today peeks in the cupboard of possible things the U.S. could do to stave off a real civil war in Iraq—and finds it pretty much bare. The news today that Sunnis have agreed to join the political process again seems like a good development, but that doesn't mean reconciliation is in hand: according to the UN's outgoing human rights chief in Iraq, John Pace, even before the Samarra bombing, Shiite and Kurdish-backed death squads were torturing and executing hundreds of Iraqis every month in Baghdad alone.

Sunni leaders appear to be rattled by the violence in recent days enough to want to negotiate with the Iraqi government, but as Israelis and Palestinians have known for years, it only takes a few people who don't actually want peace for there not to be peace. The more militant Iraqi clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr are gaining in influence by the day, drowning out saner and more moderate religious voices. Under the circumstances, it's no surprise that more and more analysts here in the United States are talking about withdrawal; because Iraq may continue to disintegrate regardless of whether the U.S. stays or goes. And in that case, as Suzanne Nossel says: "The only thing worse than Iraq as a failed state is Iraq as a failed state with 130,000 Americans living there."

Krugman on Inequality

| Mon Feb. 27, 2006 12:55 PM PST

We've argued before against the notion that income inequality in America is simply due to the fact that some "lucky" set of workers has the skills and education to flourish in the "new" economy while another, less fortunate, set just doesn't. Now Paul Krugman argues along similar lines today:

The 2006 Economic Report of the President tells us that the real earnings of college graduates actually fell more than 5 percent between 2000 and 2004. Over the longer stretch from 1975 to 2004 the average earnings of college graduates rose, but by less than 1 percent per year.
Even well-educated workers haven't necessarily been doing well in the "new" economy. But there has been economic growth over the past few decades. Lots of it. So who's receiving all the benefits? A "small oligarchy":

National Security in the Polls

Fri Feb. 24, 2006 6:28 PM PST

President Bush has used "national security" as his signature issue since 9/11. The economy's down? Hey, don't forget we're fighting the war on terror. But for the first time in a long while, Americans have started saying that they trust the Democratic Party on national security issues more than they do the president, 43-41 percent. Considering that in 2004, Bush won partly because voters had more confidence in him than in John Kerry over the "war on terror," it's hard to dismiss these polls as significant.

Also, according to a new poll on the Dubai port deal, just 17 percent of Americans favor letting a Dubai operate U.S. ports, while a walloping 65 percent believe the sale should be prohibited. Where this will push Republican members of Congress, we don't know. But to remain in the good graces of the 65 percent of Americans who don't support the Dubai deal, it would seem wise to part ways with the president.