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No Royalty, Please

NO ROYALTY, PLEASE....From the New York Times today:Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of an American political dynasty, has decided to pursue the United States Senate seat being vacated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a person told of her...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 7:40 PM EST

NO ROYALTY, PLEASE....From the New York Times today:

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of an American political dynasty, has decided to pursue the United States Senate seat being vacated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a person told of her decision said on Monday....Ms. Kennedy will ask Gov. David A. Paterson of New York to consider her for the appointment, according to the person told of her decision.

For what it's worth, I'd like to join the almost unanimous blogosphere consensus that Paterson should choose someone else. Rich and famous people already have a huge leg up when it comes to winning political office, but at least they still have to run and win. Appointing them instead so they can avoid the whole messy business of engaging in a campaign is just a little too Habsburgian for my taste.

Needless to say, I've got nothing against Kennedy. But appointing her to the Senate just isn't the right thing to do.

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Johnny Marr Quashes Smiths Reunion Rumor

Or, "William, It Was Really Nothing." Ahem. Reports emerged late last week that The Smiths were possibly maybe "on the verge" of a reunion, after lead singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr "settled their differences." The UK Telegraph was reporting that "industry sources believe that a comeback could be imminent." While just about every other band who ever broke up has already reunited, long-suffering...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 5:07 PM EST

mojo-photo-oldsmiths.jpgOr, "William, It Was Really Nothing." Ahem. Reports emerged late last week that The Smiths were possibly maybe "on the verge" of a reunion, after lead singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr "settled their differences." The UK Telegraph was reporting that "industry sources believe that a comeback could be imminent." While just about every other band who ever broke up has already reunited, long-suffering Smiths fans likely didn't get their hopes up (mostly because Smiths fans don't really have any hopes to get up) and our abject cynicism and unfettered pessimism was proven right once again, as Marr has forcefully denied the rumors of a reunion to NME:

Marr issued a statement to NME.COM saying that rumours floating around that the band were reuniting were "untrue". He declared: "The stories circulating about a Smiths reunion are, as usual, untrue." Marr added he was committed to his current band The Cribs. "I'm currently very excited about writing and recording with The Cribs for a new album to be released next summer and we're playing shows in February, so going back in time isn't in my plans," he said.

Considering your musical promiscuousness post-Smiths, I'm sure The Cribs totally believe you.

Paranoia at Big Coal Headquarters (Video)

There's an awful lot that is crazy about this speech by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 3:26 PM EST

There's an awful lot that is crazy about this speech by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest coal company in the country, and member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He says "greeniacs" are trying to take over the country. He says that people who disagree with his retrograde views on global warming and energy (climate change doesn't exist, duh) are "communists" and "atheists." He compares the editors of a newspaper that has criticized him to Osama bin Laden.

But my favorite part is when Blankenship suggests that somehow third world countries have got themselves in their unfortunate states by trying too hard to conserve energy and live sustainably.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China and India in the last year or two, and I can tell you, that's the first stage. You go from having your own car to carpooling to, you know, riding the bus to mass transit. You eventually get to where you're walking. And your apartments go from being nice apartments and homes with your own bathroom, to sharing bathrooms and kitchens with four families.

Whatever you say, chief. Here are the highlights; they're an excellent view into the thinking of the far Right. More video is over at the NRDC.

Always Look Under the Hood

ALWAYS LOOK UNDER THE HOOD....Some good advice from Dean Baker. When a news article tells you that industrial production fell "less than expected," check to see if that's only because the previous month's numbers have been revised downward:There are often...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 3:17 PM EST

ALWAYS LOOK UNDER THE HOOD....Some good advice from Dean Baker. When a news article tells you that industrial production fell "less than expected," check to see if that's only because the previous month's numbers have been revised downward:

There are often large revisions to prior months' data. A large fall from an upward revision can leave us in a much better place than a small fall from a downward revision. If the new information in the report is that things were much worse last month than we had thought, we have limited grounds to celebrate when we say that they have not worsened too much further in the current month.

The data show that November's manufacturing output is down 1.4 percent from October's level, which was in turn revised down by 0.5 percent from the previously reported level. Over the last three months, manufacturing output has fallen at a 17.8 percent annual rate. That is not good news.

No, it sure doesn't sound like good news to me. On the other hand, if we let GM go under we'll all be pining away for the days of a mere 17.8% decline.

Background on the Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

For background on the Iraqi journalist who on Sunday hurled two shoes at George W. Bush during a press conference...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:24 PM EST

For background on the Iraqi journalist who on Sunday hurled two shoes at George W. Bush during a press conference in Iraq, there's this November 18, 2007 report from Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about the disappearance of Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi of satellite TV station Al-Baghdadiyah, who was kidnapped in central Baghdad on 16 November. The news agency reports of his abduction offer little reason for optimism.
"The kidnapping of a journalist in Iraq is often a prelude to his murder, and we have every reason to fear for Zaidi's life," the press freedom organisation said. "This war has resulted in massive bloodshed for both the Iraqi and foreign media. Never before in history have journalists suffered so much in a war. We urge all the security forces present in Baghdad to work together to find Zaidi. And we extend our support to his family and colleagues."
The Associated Press quoted an Al-Baghdadiyah editor as saying Zaidi went missing in central Baghdad while on his way to work. The editor said that, when Zaidi failed to turn up, a colleague called his mobile. A strange voice answered and said: "Forget Muntadhar."

Primary Care

PRIMARY CARE....The LA Times writes today about Tanyech Walford, a primary care doctor who finally gave up her practice because she couldn't make a living at it:Walford is not alone in her struggle. Relatively low earnings, rising overhead and overwhelming...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:15 PM EST

PRIMARY CARE....The LA Times writes today about Tanyech Walford, a primary care doctor who finally gave up her practice because she couldn't make a living at it:

Walford is not alone in her struggle. Relatively low earnings, rising overhead and overwhelming patient loads are sending veteran primary care physicians into early retirement and driving medical students into better-paying specialties, creating what the New England Journal of Medicine recently called a crisis.

....Much of the problem lies in an endangered business model: the one- or two-physician general practice....Small general practices afford doctors autonomy to practice medicine as they see fit and can produce strong doctor-patient bonds. But these physicians have little or no clout to leverage better payments with insurers; they have no economy of scale, which makes overhead more burdensome.

Across the country, Pauline Chen writes in the New York Times about the general scope of the problem in primary care:

The news got worse in September, when The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that just 2 percent of graduating medical students are choosing to enter general internal medicine. The students surveyed were concerned in part by what they perceived to be a more difficult personal and professional lifestyle, compared with other fields. They felt that the paperwork and charting required of primary care physicians were more onerous, and they were not eager to care for the chronically ill in a health care system that focuses on acute care.

....The Physicians' Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports physicians' work with patients, last month published the results of a survey on current medical practice conditions in the United States. Some 12,000 doctors responded, the vast majority of whom were primary care physicians.

Nearly half of them said they planned in the next three years to reduce the number of patients they see or to stop practicing altogether....Only one-third felt they had the time to fully communicate with and to treat all patients, and 60 percent felt that paperwork demands resulted in less time spent with patients.

Italics mine. This is the result of our current Rube Goldberg medical system. Private insurers pay lip service to primary care physicians, but demand massive amounts of paperwork from them at the same time that they've reduced their payments for office visits so much that GPs can't survive on fewer than 30 patients per day. And with a patient load like that, you simply can't afford to spend more than a few minutes per person. This creates a vicious cycle in which both doctors and patients become increasingly stressed and increasingly less satisfied.

In fairness, it's not as if Medicare pays princely sums for office visits either, so this is hardly a problem that magically goes away just by installing a different funding mechanism. But it might be a start. More GPS, fewer dermatologists, please.

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Dep't of Energy Making It Harder to FOIA Bush-Era Docs

As President Bush prepares to leave office, his appointees in the executive branch agencies seem to be doing their...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:10 PM EST

foia.jpg

As President Bush prepares to leave office, his appointees in the executive branch agencies seem to be doing their best to cover his tracks. With President-elect Barack Obama set to announce his choice of Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy later today, that department is trying to make it harder for the public to dig into its activities. Secrecy News reports that the Bush DOE wants to remove a guideline that encourages it to release information under the FOIA that it's not legally required to release if doing so would serve the "public interest." The likely result would be that the DOE would never release information unless under a legal mandate, echoing a policy former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft implemented at the Justice Department, which actually encouraged withholding information whenever there was a "sound legal basis" for doing so. Secrecy News, which is run by the Federation of American Scientists, has FAS' comments on the proposed regulation:

[T]here is a widespread and well-founded expectation that the incoming Obama Administration will rescind the Ashcroft FOIA policy and define a more forthcoming disclosure policy. In light of that probable scenario, I would urge DOE to cancel its proposed revision of [the public interest balancing test], or else to suspend action on it for six months while the new Administration prepares new government-wide FOIA guidance.

Seeing as the Bush administration won't extend the courtesy of allowing the Obamas to move into the official White House guest house a few days early, it seems unlikely that DOE will hold off on its proposed revision out of amity toward the incoming administration. But I guess it's worth a shot.

DC Charters

DC CHARTERS....The Washington Post reports today that DC's charter schools are doing well:According to a Washington Post analysis of recent national test results for economically disadvantaged students, D.C. middle-school charters scored 19 points higher than the regular public schools in...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 1:47 PM EST

DC CHARTERS....The Washington Post reports today that DC's charter schools are doing well:

According to a Washington Post analysis of recent national test results for economically disadvantaged students, D.C. middle-school charters scored 19 points higher than the regular public schools in reading and 20 points higher in math.

....The two public systems are, in general, educating students from similar backgrounds. About two-thirds of the students in both systems live in poverty, and more than 90 percent are minorities, according to school records.

I'm basically a fan of charter schools. I hope they are doing well in DC. But before we pat ourselves too hard on the back here, let's read a little more:

Charter schools must accept any student who applies, using a lottery if they have more applicants than spaces. That prevents the schools from cherry-picking applicants. But each school is free to set its own rules on expelling students.

....For each elementary student enrolled, a District charter school receives $11,879 in tax dollars, including $8,770 to match per-pupil academic spending in the regular public schools and a $3,109 facility allotment to help pay for buildings....Charter schools can use the facilities money for any purpose, and that funding stream can provide a crucial advantage over traditional public schools. For schools with 300 or more students, the funding often exceeds building costs, and the surplus has gone to hire additional staff and buy extra computers and books.

....Friendship Public Charter Schools — the city's largest charter network, with five schools and more than 4,000 students — has a surplus of $3.4 million that has funded cutting-edge equipment, including computerized interactive whiteboards that are found even in preschool classrooms.

The extra funding, it turns out, coincides with improved academic performance: The schools with the largest surpluses have ranked at the top on test scores.

....Some charter schools have been especially successful at supplementing taxpayer funding with charitable grants from donors as large as the Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton foundations and as small as their friends and neighbors. Thurgood Marshall charter school, founded by Georgetown University's Street Law Program, expects $1.7 million in contributions this year, accounting for 25 percent of overall spending, according to its budget.

Let's summarize. Charter schools can't "cherry pick," but their students all come from families that have chosen to apply for a place. This means their student bodies are automatically far different from those in standard public schools, since they include only students whose parents care about education in the first place. This is a very, very big difference.

And charters get to expel students who cause problems. "Our success is not from moving kids out," says Susan Schaeffler, who heads the KIPP program in DC, and that might be so in raw numbers. But the ability to get rid of even a small number of serious behavior problems can have a substantial impact.

Finally, it turns out that charters get more money than traditional schools — both from the city and from private sources. And they use that money to buy extra books, hire more staff, and create programs that attract good students. And the schools with the most money seem to perform the best. Amazing!

Look: even your most novice educational researcher knows that comparing test scores is useless unless you control pretty carefully for things like parental involvement and expenditure levels. And most of the studies I've seen suggest that once you do that, charters perform about the same as traditional schools. At most, they perform only slightly better.

Now, I don't know what such a study would show of DC's charters, but neither does the Post. And you can certainly make the case that offering DC parents a choice is a good thing regardless. I certainly think it is. But pretending that charters have improved test scores is journalistic malpractice. The Post simply hasn't presented any credible evidence that this is the case.

All-Seeing Olympians

ALL-SEEING OLYMPIANS....Ezra Klein responds to David Brooks:Meanwhile, a question for Brooks. He asks, "Why do so many of the plans being offered rely upon a Magic Technocrat ? an all-knowing Car Czar who can reorganize Detroit, an all-seeing team of...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 1:08 PM EST

ALL-SEEING OLYMPIANS....Ezra Klein responds to David Brooks:

Meanwhile, a question for Brooks. He asks, "Why do so many of the plans being offered rely upon a Magic Technocrat — an all-knowing Car Czar who can reorganize Detroit, an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe?" Can he — can anyone? — name the sponsored piece of legislation, or even proposed piece of legislation, that would appoint "an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe?"

Well, in fairness, here is Ezra himself glossing Tom Daschle's description of his proposed Federal Health Board:

Appoint a politically insulated board of doctors and academics and advocates and stakeholders and let them make decisions informed by expertise and experience, much of it private sector experience. It's an idea that substantially limits congressional authority over the health care system....What Daschle is offering is a decision-making body insulated from political pressures and profit considerations, imbued with the power and funding to gather real evidence, and run by trusted authorities, and thus able to lay claim to real legitimacy.

"All-seeing team of Olympians" is obviously hyperbole, but the fact is that many of us who support national healthcare do indeed support the idea of a technical body that would set standards for treatment, including the kinds of medicines that a national plan would pay for. I happen to think that's a reasonable alternative to the mess we have now, but it's hardly unfair for Brooks to disagree.

(Technically, of course, doctors could still prescribe anything they wanted even if some governing body declined to put it on the federal government's formulary. But for most people covered by a national plan, medicine that's not on the formulary might as well not be available, so this is a fairly thin distinction. What Brooks really ought to be asking himself, though, is whether the all-seeing Olympians who currently work for insurance companies are preferable to all-seeing Olympians who work for the federal government. It's not really clear why they would be.)

One Two Three Four

ONE TWO THREE FOUR....The New York Times reports today on Iraqi reaction to the reporter who threw his shoes at George Bush on Sunday. This is from Najaf:In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, demonstrators...

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 12:26 PM EST

ONE TWO THREE FOUR....The New York Times reports today on Iraqi reaction to the reporter who threw his shoes at George Bush on Sunday. This is from Najaf:

In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, demonstrators chanted: "Bush, Bush, is a cow, your farewell was by a shoe," and, "The shoe got its goal straightly, but Maliki turned it away."

I sure hope this sounds better in the original Arabic. Otherwise the odds are low that it will enter the hall of fame of angry chants anytime soon.