Death Declines During Depressions

People live longer during depressions. A new analysis in PNAS finds that life expectancy of Americans during the Great Depression increased by a whopping 6.2 years—from 57.1 in 1929 to 63.3 years in 1932. This was true for men and women of all races, all age groups, and all causes of death—except suicide.

The researchers analyzed mortality rates from the six most prevalent causes of death in the 1930s: cardiovascular and renal diseases; cancer; influenza and pneumonia; tuberculosis; motor vehicle traffic injuries, and suicide.

Health overall improved during the four years of the Great Depression, as well as during recessions in 1921 and 1938. Conversely, death rates rose during periods of strong economic expansion, such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936-1937.

Why the counterintuitive results?

Well, the study didn't tackle this question. Though the researchers have a few hunches. All related to the fact that working conditions are different during economic expansions and recessions:

  • In expansions, firms are busy and typically demand a lot from employees, including overtime and a faster work pace. This creates stress, which is associated with more drinking and smoking. [Translation: They work you to death.]
  • In expansions, inexperienced workers are hired more likely to injure or kill themselves on the job.
  • People working a lot tend to sleep less, reducing overall health.
  • People working a lot eat more poorly. Either richer, fattier foods. And/or overworking crap food. [Might I add: more meat?]
  • In recessions, because there's less work, everyone works at a more relaxed pace. People sleep more.
  • In recessions, people feel, or are, poorer and spend less on alcohol and tobacco. [ Hmm. Not sure I agree with that one. The researchers are not bar-goers, is my guess.]
  • Economic upturns are associated with increases in atmospheric pollution, with its well-documented short-term effects on cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.
  • Economic expansion may increase social isolation and decrease social support because everyone's working so hard.

So, extreme ambition, cut-throat rivalry, pointless materialism, workalholicism, and general slavery to the almighty boss and his henchman the dollar is deadly to human life?
 

With so much ink already spilled in the political war over health care reform, it is the rare piece that can successfully redraw the battle lines in amusing and insightful ways. But two such examples have recently fought through the cacophony of the blogosphere to aid the ailing debate.

On Saturday Jonathan Rauch used a hilarious extended metaphor to expose the unconvincing arguments often offered in defense of the existing health care system. In a fictional dialogue with the booking agent for Air Health Care, Rauch imagines what the US travel system would be like if it was run like the health insurance industry. Exasperated, he explains to the agent that, "in a sane, modern system…I would be able to arrange a whole trip with a single phone call!"

The Air Health Care employee responds using some very familiar excuses:

Sir. Please. Calm down and be realistic. I'm sure the system can be frustrating, but consumers don't understand flight plans and landing slots. Even if they did, there are thousands of separate providers involved in moving travelers around, and hundreds of airports, and millions of trips. Getting everyone to coordinate services and exchange information just isn't realistic in a business as complicated as travel.

And this morning, the normally libertarian-leaning Economist posted a similarly spirited critique of the protests against centralizing health care—via a discussion of the merits of Macs vs. Microsoft. Building on a Talking Points Memo discussion, the Democracy in America blog likens the convenient, streamlined, interoperable "iFascism" of the Mac product line to the supposedly "Orwellian" attempts by Obama administration to overhaul health care and provide robust financial product regulation. In contrast, DiA posits, the existing health care system is more like Microsoft—it theoretically offers more choices, but is also "incoherent, hard to understand, often dysfunctional and bloated by obsolete legacy systems." The Economist's unexpected conclusion?

Opposition to quality centralised design doesn't make you freer. It just leaves you confused and helpless, and forces you to spend much of your time figuring out how to accomplish basic tasks, rather than doing the great things you wanted to do with your computer/life.

 

Report Predicts 7.3 Degree Temperature Rise by 2060

Average global temperatures could rise by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060, according to a new report from the United Kingdom's Met Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. The startling new predictions come after a major letdown on climate progress at last week's G20 meeting, and as hopes fade that world leaders will make significant headway on a new international agreement this year.

Their report, conducted on behalf of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, found that they could see a 10 degree or greater rise in temperatures in some regions, which would cause droughts in some areas, flooding in others, sea level rises, and ecosystem system collapse. The Arctic could be up to 15.2 degrees warmer if we continue on our current high-emissions path, which would be "enhanced by melting of snow and ice causing more of the Sun’s radiation to be absorbed."

Land areas could warm by 7 degrees or more, with the highest in western and souther Africa, where average temperatures could increase by 10 degrees. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 20 percent or more in some regions, with the largest decreases expected in western and southern Africa, Central America, the Mediterranean and parts of coastal Australia. It is expected to increase by 20 percent or more in other areas, like India, which would increase flood risks.


One Torture Document That's Not Missing

As I reported this morning, and Marcy Wheeler first noticed, the Obama administration has been unable to find at least ten documents relating to the Bush administration's torture, detention, and extraordinary rendition programs. From my story today:

In 2007, the Bush administration was fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was seeking records related to the deaths of detainees, their treatment, and the administration's rendition policies. CIA lawyers drew up a list [PDF] of 181 documents that they considered exempt from release. Some of these records, which were stored in a secure facility, were so sensitive that Justice Department lawyers lacked the clearances to handle them.

After President Obama took office, he issued a new FOIA policy, instructing executive branch agencies to "adopt a presumption in favor" of releasing information. The Obama Justice Department reprocessed the ACLU's earlier request under the new guidelines. But when they did so, department officials discovered that 10 documents listed on the index compiled by the Bush administration were nowhere to be found. The Justice Department noted this in a filing [PDF] by David Barron, an acting assistant attorney general, which was submitted last week as part of the ongoing ACLU case and first highlighted by Firedoglake blogger Marcy Wheeler. Barron acknowledged in the filing that even more documents could be missing, because "many" of the documents the Obama team did find were "not certain matches" to the ones on the Bush administration's list.

In her initial blog post on the subject, Marcy brought up the case of the sixth document on
both the Obama and Bush administration lists:

The 2007 Index refers to the document as a 46-page document, dated July 25, 2002, providing legal advice. Yesterday's Index refers to the document as a 59-page document, from and to the DOD, dated July 25, 2002, providing legal advice.

The page discrepancy, by itself is interesting (that is, if they don't have the document, then how do they know that the original index listed the page numbers wrong?).

And then there's the fact that this document is missing. Some of these documents discussed SERE techniques as torture. In the SASC report, both Jim Haynes and John Rizzo were very squirmy about discussing how DOD advice to to OLC for CIA's torture memos; if we had the document itself, we might be able to explain that definitively. And then there's the possibility that someone took notes on this document.

While I was reporting this story, I got an answer about the discrepancy between the two administrations' description of the same document. Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told me that the Obama administration made a filing error. They found a document with the same date as "Document 6" and, although it had 59 pages instead of 46, added its information to their list. Once they realized it wasn't a match, they forgot to remove that information from the index. So, to be clear: a 59-page Department of Defense top-secret memo from July 25, 2002 does exist, and the DOJ has sent it to the Pentagon for processing. It will appear on a future index if the administration decides to withhold it. What the Obama DOJ didn't find was the 46-page memo "providing legal advice" that's described on the Bush administration's list. That's still missing.

Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann are supposed to be the oil and vinegar of the Republican Party. He's an anti-war, anti-Patriot Act, radically pro-civil rights libertarian. She's a Bible-thumping Bush acolyte who dreams of nuking Iran and likens gay sex to bestiality. But there they were on Friday, sharing the stage at a town hall organized by Paul backers, where Bachmann called him "one of the leading advocates for freedom in our capitol." What gives?

Bachmann's role is telling in what it says about how she and other Bush-era Republicans are trying to reposition themselves. As recently as last year's GOP presidential primary, Paul was ridiculed by the GOP mainstream for his opposition to America's costly military adventures abroad; the leading conservative website, Redstate.com, even banned his supporters from shilling for him in blog comments. Paul's votes against war funding were part of his general practice of opposing almost every government spending bill, a habit that earned him the nickname "Dr. No."

Now, of course, the once-lonely Dr. No finds himself surrounded by a Party of No. And the new GOP refuseniks want his blessing so they can obscure how their past fiscal recklessness tanked the economy and mobilize Paul's considerable grassroots machine against Obama.

That job requires some contortions. "Next year the government is going to spend more money on welfare in one year than they spent on the entire eight years of the war," Bachmann told the crowd, essentially arguing the GOP has been the party of fiscal restraint, even though Bush racked up record deficits. And now that Obama is trying to correct those excesses, she feels taxpayers' pain: "Sales tax, gas tax, every-time-you-turn-around tax," she complained. "In other words, at the rate your government has been spending, the fruits of your labor have already been spoken for."

Bachman, who has been tutored by Paul as of late during his Thursday "Liberty Luncheons," was so enamored of her new anti-tax identity that she couldn't contain herself. The "government takeover of healthcare" will literally tax away everything Americans make, she suggested, transforming the country into a communist economy: "In other words, 100 percent of your check has already been spoken for. You can't have everything that you make confiscated by the government. It doesn't work."

This and Bachman's other genuflections the the gods of the free market and small government were met with huge cheers, suggesting that Paulites are willing to forget how she and the rest of the GOP spent eight years undermining both of those things. It was almost as if the crowd was thankful to her wing of the party for royally screwing up, thereby confirming the libertarian notion that government is never the answer. Kick the dog enough, and it will lick your hand every time you whistle.

 

Assignment Desk Watch

If the New York Times is serious about its shiny new plan to cover the conservative noise machine more thoroughly, they better jump on this one right away.  By tomorrow it will probably be gone, yet another important story missed by the mainstream media.  Get cracking, guys.

Surfing the New Stimulus 2.0 Website

Big news for all you stimulus fans—Recovery.gov, the federal recovery website, just relaunched this morning. For months, the frustratingly sketchy website was the last place you'd go to keep track of where the $787 billion in economic stimulus was being doled out. While the adminsitration scrambled to live up to the president's promise to account for "every dime," ProPublica and Recovery.com put up relatively easy-to-use recovery trackers. (Congressional Republicans also set up a less-than-user friendly site at Sunshine.gop.gov.) So how does the revamped Recovery.gov 2.0 stack up against the competition?

A quick tour of the site reveals it to be a major improvement—especially when you consider it was pulled together in just 10 weeks. Its centerpiece is an interactive map where you can track grants, loans, and contracts by location, agency, or amount. You can zoom in on funding recipients by exact location, which you can't do on the ProPublica or Recovery.com maps, making it easy to see where the checks are going locally. It also offers text lists of recipients by state and agency. ProPublica and Recovery.com offer lists by county and city, respectively—so will someone please offer a choice of recipient lists by zip code, city, county, and state? Perhaps Recovery.gov can be of assistance: For the super wonky, it offers downloadable data for making "mashups and gadgets." Amid an otherwise so-so review of the site, OMB Watch says "this is actually a really nice feature."

The Case of the Missing Documents

Two years ago the ACLU filed a request for records about torture and detainee abuse.  Part of what they got was a list of 181 documents the government considered exempt from release.  But when the feds took another look this year, they couldn't find ten of the documents on the original list.  What happened?  Nick Baumann speculates:

"It was impossible to ascertain whether the discrepancy was the result of an error by the prior administration when it created the original...index or whether the prior administration misplaced the documents in question," Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told Mother Jones. In other words, CIA and Justice Department lawyers might have mistakenly listed documents that never existed in the first place.

But is it plausible that the inconsistency could be merely a clerical error? After the Bush administration created the index, a CIA official swore under oath that she had reviewed the documents on the original list. And one of the disputed documents was listed on the original index as a 46-page memo "providing legal advice," classified as top secret and dated 25 July 2002. Schmaler says the Obama administration's search never found a document matching that description. Could the CIA and Justice Department lawyers who composed the original list have mistakenly included a non-existent memo — complete with a date and precise page count?

Well, maybe there were two 46-page memos written on 25 Jul 2002.  Or, um, maybe it was actually a memo about restraining booze, not detainee abuse.  Or something.  I'm sure it will all be cleared up soon.  Move along folks.  Nothing to see here.

Yet another blow for the Chamber of Commerce today: The largest electric utility company in the US vowed this morning that it would not renew its membership in the chamber because of its opposition to global warming action.

Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe dropped the news in a speech before the annual meeting of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "Exelon is so committed to climate legislation that Rowe announced during today’s speech that Exelon will not be renewing its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to the organization’s opposition to climate legislation," the group said in a press release this morning.

This marks the third major departure from the Chamber over climate policy in just over a week, following the exit of California utility PG&E and New Mexico utility PNM. Exelon is a member of the US Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of environmental and business leaders advocating for a climate bill in Congress.

Rowe appeared in ads in support of a climate bill earlier this year. "I’m a utility CEO—not who you’d expect to be for a cap on carbon pollution," Rowe said. "But a smart cap will overhaul our economy by shifting us toward clean, American-made energy. And a smart cap will control costs and protect your family’s budget."

Rowe is also a big conservative funder, and has donated $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee for each of the past two years.

I wonder if William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, is regretting that "Scopes monkey trial" comment yet.

The Third Rail

Conor Friedersdorf comments on Glenn Beck's recent heresy that a McCain presidency might have been even worse than an Obama presidency:

It is therefore no surprise that Comrade Beck is now being turned on by Comrade Limbaugh and Comrade Levin (the one among the trio who actually believes most of what he says)....

Well, Levin might believe most of what he says, but I was at Blockbuster the other day and found myself thumbing through a copy of his recent bestseller, Liberty and Tyranny(Why does Blockbuster now sell books?  That's a question for another time.)  To my surprise, it turns out that for all his bombast, Levin is a wimp.

The end of his book is taken up by a "conservative manifesto," and it's chock full of fire-breathing stuff.  Eliminate the income tax, eliminate corporate taxes, put a hard cap on the size of the federal government, eliminate tax-exempt status for all environmental groups, rein in judicial review, insist on originalism as the only proper way to interpret the constitution, make governments pay property owners for all zoning changes that affect them, wipe out all teachers unions, no national healthcare, crank up military spending, put God back in government, etc. etc.  I'm paraphrasing a bit, but you get the idea.  It's hardcore right-wingerism.

Obviously, then, a guy like this wants to do away with Social Security and Medicare, right?  Well, hold on there, pardner.  Let's not go off half-cocked.  Sure, they're "poisonous snake oil," but all Levin can bring himself to suggest is that young people be educated about the intergenerational "trap" of entitlements so that they can be "contained, limited, and reformed."  Educated!  Limited and reformed!  That's it.

Pretty weak tea for a firebreather.  Even among the wingers, it turns out, Social Security is a third rail.  After all, I guess Levin wants old people to buy his book too.