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Black Women Are Getting Shorter. Really.

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:26 PM EST

From WaPo:

On average, black American women are getting shorter.

That's the conclusion reached by John Komlos, an economist who researches the relationship between standards of living and human health and body size. His study, which has not yet been published, analyzes data recently released by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the article to find out why height is such a crucial component of overall health. This is a very disturbing finding, especially since researchers aren't sure why/how it's happening. Until we know that, we can't reverse the trend, and something tells me research bucks are going to be increasingly difficult to score.

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On "Middle Class Values"

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:19 PM EST

I'm wondering why Naomi Riley wrote this short piece in the City Journal. She served (pretty diligently it seems) as a Big Sister to an inner city girl living in a chaotic environment, and found that some people are opposed to mentors consciously trying to instill "middle class values" in their charges. Are we still playing these word games? Call them middle class values, call them "get yourself together" values, call them the road to success if you like—if someone's mired in disadvantage and likely to repeat the patterns they've grown up with, surely something needs to change.

Gupta vs. Moore

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 12:51 PM EST

GUPTA vs. MOORE....Barack Obama has nominated celebrity doctor Sanjay Gupta to be Surgeon General, and over at his place Ezra Klein has a full rundown of the smackdown between Michael Moore and Gupta after Sicko came out a couple of years ago. I remember being annoyed by this at the time, primarily by Gupta's idiotic insistence that, no, America doesn't spend $7,000 per person on healthcare, it spends only $6,000. Wham! Take that, Moore!

This seemed even more egregious than Gupta's other errors, since it was a purely technical disagreement and Gupta knew perfectly well that (a) there was nothing wrong with Moore's number and (b) it was a trivial difference anyway. Moore's point was that we spend way more money than other countries without getting better results, and that's beyond argument. In the end, though, I wrote it off not so much to mainstream dislike of Moore as to mainstream insistence that if you're going to fact check something, then by God you'd better find some errors even if there aren't any.

Gupta had a few other issues with Moore that Ezra didn't comment on (is national healthcare "free"?, do other countries have longer waiting times than the U.S.?), and he didn't do much better on those. Still, I guess in the end I agree with Ezra that this has been blown out of proportion:

But it's not, as some of the e-mail has suggested, evidence that Gupa is either conservative or an opponent of universal health care. He's read Obama's plan. He's coming on in a largely communications capacity. And that'll be his role. Krugman says that the problem with Gupta's performance was that it was another example of elites engaging in "Village" behavior. He's right about that. But at the end of the day, if the villagers support Obama's heath reform plan, it has a far better shot than if they don't. That's why Gupta's hire is good for health reform, even if it's not good for pundit accountability.

Surgeon General just isn't that big a deal. Gupta will be an effective public face for healthcare, but it's not likely he'll have any major input into the policy end of Obama's primary healthcare plan. It's not worth getting too excited about.

UPDATE: Over at Kos, DrSteveB writes the brief for the opposition. The main problem is that Gupta has a long string of connections with various pharma and healthcare companies. I'm not sure how unusual this is, and I'll wait to hear more about it before saying more. But it's certainly something that needs to be addressed.

UPDATE 2: Oops. Turns out the long string of connections belongs to a different Sanjay Gupta. DrSteve has updated accordingly. Obviously the usual vetting is still in order, but there's no evidence that Gupta has any inappropriate industry ties.

CIA Insider: Panetta's A Good Pick for CIA Chief

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 11:32 AM EST

The front page of The Washington Post screams, "Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection." The article notes that "current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama's choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director." CQPolitics.com blogger and national security journalist Jeff Stein, quoting a former CIA operations veteran, reports that the rank-and-file reaction to Panetta at the CIA has been "overwhelmingly negative." Stein notes that many CIA field people aren't keen on bringing an intelligence establishment outsider into the CIA and would rather have someone who knows the nitty-gritty of spy work running the place--though Stein does report that "a number of former top CIA officials" have told him that Panetta could be a good choice, given that he can be expected to have the standing within the Obama administration to bring effective leadership to the agency.

I asked a former top CIA official who had served not too long ago to share his/her view of the Panetta pick. S/he would only do so if not identified. I know it's often unsatisfying to read a long quote from an unnamed source. But his/her perspective is interesting enough to merit presenting the full response. Let me add that this person is savvy in both the ways of Langley and Washington:

I was expecting to be surprised...and I was. It seems to me to be a reasonably good one pick given the cards they had dealt themselves. The Obama transition folks massively mishandled the [onetime contender for CIA chief] John Brennan situation. When they caved to a little outside pressure [which resulted from Brennan's previous association with the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation procedures] and forced him to remove himself from consideration -- they ended up ruling out a whole class of potential candidates. (i.e. anyone who had served in a position of any significance in intelligence in the past 8 years). So then what could they do?

Transparency and Bipartisanship On the March. Really!

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 11:24 AM EST

I'm convinced that Obama's massive (and growing) popularity has as much to do with stuff like this as it does with his personal charisma and his plans for fixing the economy, health care, and America's reputation abroad. Even those who opposed Obama during the campaign are seeing that the new administration will be run with respect for the other side and a full embrace of transparency. Jake Tapper:

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Vir., suggested said the [stimulus] bill should be put on the Internet a week before Congress votes on it.
Mr. Obama smiled and said something along the lines of, "maybe if I was better at faking it , I'd say, 'Great idea — we'll take you up on that.' But we've actually talked about this idea."
Obama turned it over to incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who essentially said they would do the Republicans one better. They're planning a Google-like search function to show every program funded by the stimulus package, whether it comes in under or over-budget, whether it is meeting its intended purpose, and how many jobs it is creating.
"Tell you what," Obama said, "we'll still call it the Cantor idea."

Also note that Obama is insisting that the stimulus bill be clear of earmarks. This stuff is catnip for fiscal conservatives and government reform do-gooders alike. (H/T Sunlight)

Panetta at the CIA

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 2:45 AM EST

PANETTA AT THE CIA....Fred Kaplan asked Richard Clarke about Leon Panetta today, and Clarke mentioned that a point in Panetta's favor as CIA director is that as Bill Clinton's budget director and White House chief of staff during the 90s "he was one of a very few people who knew about all of the covert and special-access programs." That could come in handy:

These "special-access programs" — satellites, sensors, and other intelligence-gathering devices whose very existence is known only to those with compartmentalized security clearances — form a welter of costly, overlapping, ill-coordinated, and largely unsupervised projects that are run by private contractors to a greater extent than most people might imagine.

One former CIA official who is familiar with these programs (and who asked not to be identified) speculates that Panetta's main task might be to clean up not only the agency's high-profile mess — the "black ops" that have tarnished America's reputation around the world — but this budgetary-bureaucratic mess as well. Certainly, he knows where the line items are buried to a degree that few insiders can match.

But I wonder how much control Panetta would have over this stuff. Isn't most of it part of NSA, NRO, or other Pentagon outfits? Still: an interesting point. Panetta's past experience may be more relevant than people think.

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iTunes Drops Copy Protection, Adds Tiered Pricing, Still No Foot Massages

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 11:45 PM EST

mojo-photo-itunesscreen.jpgIn a quietly revolutionary move, the world's biggest online music retailer announced today that they've managed to please just about everybody except those of us wanting a little footsie-rub. For music fans, iTunes will soon drop copy protection on every single track they have for sale; for the suits, iTunes has finally given in to a longtime record label demand for variable pricing. You give a little, you get a little. Actually, I suppose I shouldn't call this "revolutionary" since Amazon.com's ugly-but-functional mp3 store has been doing the same thing for about 16 months now (and don't forget about the dance-music-centric Beatport, who will even sell you a big ole wave file if you want). But Apple is undeniably the biggie, and their abandonment of D.R.M. ("digital rights management") software means you'll be able to happily do whatever you please with your purchased songs, the same way you can with your… er… not-so-purchased ones. The pricing system will be three-tiered: music you don't really want for 69 cents, music you kind of want for 99 cents, and brand new tunes you just gotta have will cost $1.29. See how that works?

According to the New York Times, everybody's happy:

Music industry watchers widely applauded the move and said it could help digital music sales, which have shown signs of slowing just five years after Apple introduced iTunes. In particular, lower prices for some songs could spur consumers "to buy deeper into the catalog, and expand their relationship with digital music," said Russ Crupnick, an analyst with the NPD Group. … Industry pundits have long pointed to D.R.M. as one culprit for the music companies' woes, saying it alienated some customers while doing little to slow piracy on file-sharing networks.

So, how's it work?

Better on the Small Screen?

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 9:00 PM EST

BETTER ON THE SMALL SCREEN?....Last month, after emailing to taunt me about getting schooled by Ta-Nehisi Coates for my primitive esthetic sensibilities, Scott Eric Kaufman regaled me with some weird theory he had about why The Dark Knight is actually better on a TV set than on the big screen. Over the weekend he explained this theory on his blog:

Watching the film on a small screen — one on which a bug of a Batman glides between five-inch tall skyscrapers while Heath Ledger's Joker licks human-sized lips and establishes human-sized eye-contact — it's impossible to deny that this supposedly epic performance is better suited to the televisual medium.

"Impossible to deny" is a mighty strong claim, but I just rented Dark Knight on my way back from the market and plan to put this theory to the test sometime soon. Anybody else have an opinion on this vital question?

And Then What?

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 6:58 PM EST

AND THEN WHAT?....Marc Lynch went to a lecture this morning given by Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor:

It was a profoundly dismaying experience. Because if Ambassador Meridor is taken at his word, then Israel has no strategy in Gaza.

Asked three times by audience members, Meridor simply could not offer any plausible explanation as to how its military campaign in Gaza would achieve its stated goals....As to a political strategy tied to the military campaign, nothing. No guidance as to whether Israel would re-occupy Gaza, or on what terms it would accept a cease-fire. No thoughts as to whether the campaign would cause Hamas to fall from power or help the Palestinian Authority regain political power.

....In short, Meridor quite literally offered no strategy beyond hitting Gaza hard and hoping for the best. "In terms of creating damage we are certainly on the right path," noted the Ambassador. Few would disagree with that assessment, at least. But some might hope that the bloody, battered path might actually be leading somewhere.

To be honest, this seems to be true of most wars these days: hit 'em hard and hope that something shakes loose. But while that may have been a plausible strategy in colonial wars a hundred years ago, it doesn't seem to work so well anymore. I doubt very much that it's going to work for Israel this time around either.

Media Destruction Watch

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 6:31 PM EST

MEDIA DESTRUCTION WATCH....Felix Salmon reports that the latest auction of defaulted Tribune Company bonds produced dismal results:

Much more startling is the price on the senior secured loans: just 23.75 cents on the dollar. I checked in with Nishul Saperia at Markit, and he said that it was the lowest recovery rate he'd ever seen for a secured loan....

I should imagine that today's news has been greeted with a shudder at the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and other Tribune properties: clearly no one on Wall Street thinks they're worth much even without the huge pile of debt that Sam Zell loaded onto their fragile shoulders. Is David Geffen still interested in buying an uneconomic trophy property? He could turn out to be many employees' final hope.

I wonder how much longer I'll be getting a newspaper delivered to my driveway each morning?