Blogs

Are Non-Stick Chemicals And Aging Dads More Dangerous To Babies Than Cocaine?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 8:21 PM EST
Last week the New York Times printed good news about a worrisome issue in childhood development. As it turns out, children whose mothers used cocaine during pregnancy have only slightly lower IQ scores than children whose mothers didn't use. The difference between the children's scores was so low it was deemed "scientifically insignificant." In fact, the effect of alcohol on the fetus is more detrimental than cocaine's, while tobacco's is about the same. But potential parents have some other science to consider this week. In the latest issue of Human Reproduction scientists found that women with higher levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, or the chemicals that make products "non-stick") in their blood had more trouble getting pregnant. Women with higher levels of the two main chemicals—PFOA and PFOS—were up to 154 percent more likely to be infertile. Exposure is a particular problem for developed countries like the US, where eight percent of women of childbearing age have consulted a doctor about infertility. And, like we've said before, Teflon is forever.

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Men's Health Worst Foods: Healthy List or Sneaky Ad?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:16 PM EST
Image by flickr user Matt NichollsFrom Men's Health magazine comes a list of the worst foods in America of 2009. By "worst" Men's Health means worst for your body; by "food" the magazine means products or menu items. The list is basically a catalog of the fattest prepared foods in America.

Topping said list is Baskin Robbins' infamous Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which with 2,600 calories (about 400 more calories than I consume in a day) and 263 grams of sugar (that's equal to about 18 cupcakes), is essentially a heart attack in a disposable cup. Ian Froeb at the St. Louis Riverfront Times tried the Oreo Shake last month and found the taste and color somewhat wanting:

The Six Worst Tax Cuts in the Senate's Stimulus

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:00 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:00 PM EST

After a week of debate and a round of stumping from President Obama, the Senate passed its version of the economic stimulus package on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill outlines $840 billion in spending and tax relief, and just after the votes were tallied, Citizens for Tax Justice released its list (PDF) of the six worst tax cuts—costing $123 billion more than the House bill—in the Senate's stimulus:

Today's Healthcare News

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 6:19 PM EST

TODAY'S HEALTHCARE NEWS....Just in case you've been getting a little too optimistic about the prognosis for serious healthcare reform this year, here's a couple of pieces of light reading to bring you down to earth.

First up, the Wall Street Journal explains that a $1.1 billion provision in the stimulus bill to fund research comparing medical treatments is in trouble. Why? Because pharma and device companies don't really want anyone finding out just how effective their treatments are. Full story here.

Second, Michelle Cottle deconstructs a story about a lobbying war over electronic medical records. Pretty much everyone from Tom Daschle to Newt Gingrich is in favor of this, so what's the problem? Answer: drug companies want to make sure that privacy provisions don't prevent them from paying hospitals and pharmacies to hawk their latest wonder drugs to their customers. Full post here.

Just another day in the healthcare trenches. I can hardly wait til we get to the hard stuff.

GOP's Stimulus Talking Points Contradict Congressional Research Service

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 6:06 PM EST
Are House Republicans reading the reports from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service? Because if the language they used Tuesday at a series of Capitol Hill press conferences on the stimulus is any indication, they are not doing their homework.

Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, kicked the day off with a morning press availability. Reacting to the town hall event President Barack Obama held in his state on Monday to sell the stimulus to ordinary Americans, Pence called the bill a "monstrous wish list of tired liberal spending priorities." Sitting in a well-appointed conference room on Capitol Hill, he insisted that a "so-called stimulus bill" loaded with spending would never get the support of the conservative House GOP caucus. "We're going to dig in, almost irrespective of the polls." He then noted that support for the bill is dropping in the polls.

The one thing that Pence pointed to as a panacea, both for the nation's economic problems and for the bill's lack of bipartisan support, was tax cuts. "The fastest way to jumpstart an economy in a recession," he said, is to give tax relief to families and small businesses. He noted that he too had held a town hall in Indiana, and the biggest rounds of applause always came for tax cuts.

A few hours later, the number two Republican in the House, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, held his own press availability. "Poll after poll" show that Americans want tax cuts, he said. He claimed that a plan put forward by House Republicans that is heavy on tax cuts will cost half as much as the current stimulus and create twice as many jobs.

More Bailout

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:43 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 1:54 PM EST

MORE BAILOUT....According to the fact sheet accompanying the new bailout plan, all banks with assets over $100 billion will be required to undergo a "comprehensive stress test" to make sure they're solvent enough to continue lending even in the face of future losses. This applies to about the 20 biggest banks in the country. So what happens then?

While banks will be encouraged to access private markets to raise any additional capital needed to establish this buffer, a financial institution that has undergone a comprehensive “stress test” will have access to a Treasury provided “capital buffer” to help absorb losses and serve as a bridge to receiving increased private capital.

....Firms will receive a preferred security investment from Treasury in convertible securities that they can convert into common equity if needed to preserve lending in a worse-than-expected economic environment. This convertible preferred security will carry a dividend to be specified later and a conversion price set at a modest discount from the prevailing level of the institution’s stock price as of February 9, 2009.

Well, that's clear as mud, isn't it? After a thorough investigation that will supposedly force banks to face up to their losses (but not in an "overly conservative" way), they'll then be available for government bailout money. Who qualifies? Apparently everyone. What are the terms? We'll make that up on a case-by-case basis. How long will banks continue to be bailed out? No telling. What restrictions will be placed on bailed-out banks? None, apparently.

I'll wait for smarter people than me to explain this stuff further, but at first glance it sure looks an awful lot like "trust us." But we'll see. A big part of the Geithner plan is a promise to "improve public disclosure by banks," which will "include measures to improve the disclosure of the exposures on bank balance sheets." If that's done honestly, there are likely to be quite a few banks that need more than just a "preferred security investment" from the Treasury. Stay tuned.

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Press Conference

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:40 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 1:19 PM EST
PRESS CONFERENCE....Longtime reporter Walter Shapiro was decidedly unimpressed with President Obama's press conference last night:

Through most of his inaugural primetime press conference, Barack Obama seemed like he was channeling a particularly loquacious combination of Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, and the ghost of Hubert Humphrey. The president's response to the first question from the Associated Press about the risks of sounding too apocalyptic about the economy ran (or, to be more accurate, crawled) for nearly 1,200 words.

....What Obama was decidedly not Monday night was Kennedy-esque. When JFK unveiled the live presidential primetime press conference 48 years ago, he answered 37 questions in the space of 40 minutes; Obama only half-responded to 13 questions in the space of an hour....As a result, the reporters and their questions were little more than potted palms as President Obama declaimed from the East Room.

I confess that this was my initial reaction too: Obama seemed to ramble and hesitate endlessly last night. But I wonder if that's a reaction unique to someone who pays a lot of attention to politics and has heard all this stuff before? In the same way that Beltway types never liked Bill Clinton's longwinded State of the Union addresses, but ordinary voters did, I wonder if ordinary voters appreciated Obama's long, serious answers more than guys like Shapiro and me? I can't say for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Earnings

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:27 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 12:50 PM EST

EARNINGS....Via Ezra, Rick Hertzberg asks a question:

Why is that a manual worker gets paid wages and a middle manager or cop or teacher earns a salary, but a corporate boss condescends to accept “compensation”?

This really isn't so hard. "Wages" refers to hourly earnings. "Salary" is typically a fixed yearly amount for exempt employees. "Compensation" is used for corporate honchos because you need a word that encompasses the fact that a big part of their earnings are in stock, deferred salary, capital gains, pension payments, and various perks. There's really nothing very sinister about all this.

Eleven States Enter New Abortion Debate

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:24 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Mon Feb. 9, 2009 5:34 PM EST

President Obama thinks that "legislation to expand access to contraception [and] health information...[will] help reduce unintended pregnancies." But this month pro-life legislators have taken a more underhanded approach.

Eleven states are currently considering bills that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. Sixteen states already have laws that require doctors to offer women the option to have an ultrasound. Oklahoma's proposed law goes even farther, and would force women to view ultrasounds and require doctors to verbally describe the images. Many legislators say the efforts are not political, but rather about providing "information to a mother who is in a desperate situation," says Senator Tony Fulton (R-NE), "information about what she's about to choose; information about the reality inside her womb..."

Bailout 2.0

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:22 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 12:31 PM EST

BAILOUT 2.0....I've been avoiding comment on Tim Geithner's new bank bailout program because the rumors of what's in it have been changing on practically an hourly basis. So why not just wait and see what he announces? Today he did, and here's the New York Times summary of his four point program:

  • A new program, jointly run by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, with financing from private investors, to buy up hard-to-sell assets that have bogged down banks and financial institutions for the past year. The program, often described as a “bad bank,” is expected to spend $250 billion to $500 billion.
  • Direct capital injections into banks, which would come out of the remaining $350 billion in the Treasury’s rescue program.
  • A vast expansion of lending program that the Treasury and Federal Reserve had already announced, which is aimed at financing consumer loans. The two agencies had originally announced their intention to finance as much as $200 billion in loans for student loans, car loans and credit card debt. Instead the program will be expanded to as much as $1 trillion.
  • A separate $50 billion initiative to enable millions of homeowners facing imminent foreclosure to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages is to be announced next week.

I'm not sure the "bad bank" is really a bad bank, but I guess that depends on the details of how it's going to work. More later.