Granny Conspiracy: Who's behind misinformation that the Dems' healthcare reform will kill olds? Kevin Drum and James Ridgeway explain.

Ants in the Pants Syndrome: Is Restless Leg Syndrome real, or a Big Pharma invention?

Chemical Switch: The EPA may be revising its position on perchlorates in water.

Polar Bear Soup: By 2070, the Arctic could be a polluted soup, scientists say. [New Scientist]

Obama's New Tactic: Obama's campaign organization gets fired up about healthcare.

Public Enemy: Insurance companies might like the likely-to-fail healthcare "co-ops" as alternatives to the public model.

Green Label: The USDA is proposing labels for products using renewable plant and animal sources. [Environmental News Network]

Vive La Healthcare

David Gauthier-Villars has a piece about France's healthcare system in the Wall Street Journal today that's worth a read.  Like everyone, the French have been fighting a rearguard action against financing problems in their system for as long as I've been reading about it, but that means something a little different there than it does here:

Despite the structural differences between the U.S. and French systems, both face similar root problems: rising drug costs, aging populations and growing unemployment, albeit for slightly different reasons. In the U.S., being unemployed means you might lose your coverage; in France, it means less tax money flowing into Assurance Maladie's coffers.

....Today, Assurance Maladie covers about 88% of France's population of 65 million. The remaining 12%, mainly farmers and shop owners, get coverage through other mandatory insurance plans, some of which are heavily government-subsidized. About 90% of the population subscribes to supplemental private health-care plans.

Italics mine.  Despite the story's focus on France's "financing woes" — a problem shared by every healthcare system in the world — the chart on the right tells the real story.  The French spend a third less than we do per person and have a growth rate about a third lower than ours.  We should be so lucky as to have woes like that.  Their healthcare costs may be rising, but their tax-funded system reins in costs better than ours and still remains among the best in the world.

No system is perfect, but the French do pretty well.  Service is top notch, costs are reasonable, everyone is covered, administrative costs are low, the private sector is substantial, and supplemental insurance is common for people who want more than the standard level of care.  It is, ironically, a very American approach to universal care.  If we had our heads screwed on straight, we could do a lot worse than to adopt it wholesale.

Starkman on Taibbi

Over at CJR today, Dean Starkman has an almost pitch perfect review of Matt Taibbi's famous (or, depending on your point of view, infamous) evisceration of Goldman Sachs in last month's Rolling StoneGo read it.  Both his praise and his criticism match mine nearly perfectly.  There's hardly a word I disagree with.

DEET Is Neurotoxic

DEET, the stuff in insect repellants that actually works for more than 12 minutes, is toxic to the central nervous system.

DEET was thought to be just a behavior-modifying chemical. But it turns out it also inhibits a key central nervous system enzyme in both insects and mammals. The paper's in BMC Biology.

French researchers found that DEET inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme—the same mode of action used by organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. Translation: the really bad kind.

The researchers suggest more investigations are urgently needed to confirm or dismiss any potential neurotoxicity to humans—especially when DEET is used in combination with other neurotoxic insecticides. I think it often is.

DEET was created for the US Army in 1946 and is still the most common ingredient in bug juice preparations. Despite its widespread use, controversies remain concerning both the identification of its target sites at the molecular level and its mechanism of action in insects.

The official DEET site is not biting on this one.

Neither is the CDC. Yet. According to their fact sheet, 30 percent of Americans use DEET products yearly.

Personally, I've used gallons of this stuff over the years, working in malarial, mosquitoey places. Never felt good about it. The way it dissolves plastic is unnerving.
 

Is the mainstream media giving a lot of attention to the "Democrats want to kill granny" meme?  Commenter majun says, "My impression has been that FOX covers it as the unvarnished truth, MSNBC tends to make fun of it and debunk it a lot and CNN falls in the middle."  Sounds about right.  And then there's this exchange:

g.powell: But the right-wing crazies really believe this stuff about "kill granny". My father is one of them. He moved up the schedule of some elective surgeries at the VA because he is convinced Obama is out to kill him.

Anonymous: Wow g. powell. Now that's what I call irony! Moving up surgery within a govt run health care system (the VA) because govt-run health care is so scary.

g.powell: It's worse than that, my dad hates the idea of socialized medicine — it would be a disaster for the country — but loves the VA. Don't ask me to explain. I have thousand of these stories. The laws of physics and logic behave differently in Crazyland.

That's from the land of the email chain letter.  Just thought I'd share.

Rotwang says that whining about right-wing mobilization over healthcare reform just makes liberals look weak.  We're bigger and have a better case and we should just make it:

The numbing details of health care reform are important and worth discussing, but the argument against the [teabaggers] is pretty simple. If you hate socialized medicine, do you want to abolish Medicare? Why not? If not, why not have more Medicare, rather than less? Why not have wider access to health insurance that resembles what Members of Congress have? Medicare is their soft underbelly. It's socialized medicine that people already have, are used to, and support. More, not less. Once that is established, you can have a civil discussion about all the details.

That's exactly what my mother was saying to me on the phone last night.  And it's very logical.  I don't think it will work with these folks, but it's very logical.  I'm not sure Rotwang thinks it will work either, considering his ultimate advice:

Anybody who is unwilling to throw people out of their meetings should not be organizing them.

Yeah, but that has to be done very, very carefully indeed.  One small slip and you'll end up on a 24/7 loop on Glenn Beck's show.  Videotape of your goons dragging some 70-year-old grandma out of the room by her hair will not play well at all in the fabled heartland.

I guess I'd propose the following for members of congress speaking at town hall events: (1) Announce beforehand that there have been organized efforts to disrupt constituent meetings and it might happen here too, (2) ask everyone to please stay calm even in the face of provocation, (3) have your own cameras there to record the lunatics, and (4) rely on the fact that organized screaming doesn't wear well with the American public.  And then turn up the volume on your sound system.

Either that or you can get on the stage and announce that some there are some shaggy punks outside burning an American flag and you want some volunteers to go teach them a lesson.  That should get the riff raff out of the room.

It is a sad day for lovers of 80's cinema (and really, who isn't?) John Hughes, the filmmmaker behind such classics as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, died of a heart attack today, at age 59.

Of course, Hughes worked his magic well past the Brat Pack age, on hits such as Beethoven and Curly Sue. But as a child of the 80's, I and millions of others will always remember him as an icon of an era—as indelible as neon colors, New Kids on the Block, and scrunchies.

So RIP, John Hughes. Samantha Baker's parents may have forgotten her birthday, but we'll never forget you.

President Obama announced today a tiny sliver of his much anticipated and long forgotten plan to reform immigration policy: The US will stop detaining families at T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a CCA prison near Austin, TX that holds exclusively immigrants. I've never been to T. Don Hutto, but I did hang out in one of the private Corrections Corporation of America's non-criminal detention facilities in New Jersey, the hub for undocumented immigrants snagged coming in or out of one of the New York Metro airports.

It looked, not surprisingly, like a prison. And it was run like one, if a prison had window-walled dormitories instead of cell blocks: breakfast at 7, dinner at 5, showers with no curtains and toilets with no stalls. The inmates all wore gray uniforms (including gray hijabs for Muslim women, since Muslims make up a third of the inmate population there). Mostly they made paper flowers and played dominoes while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Legally, it should take a maximum of three months. But lawyers who represent immigrants say the three month maximum detention limit is a myth.  

"Cramdown"—the process of modifying mortgage terms in bankruptcy court to make them more affordable—could yet see the light of the day. The Senate, which earlier this year killed a proposal that used cramdowns to prevent foreclosures, is revisiting the topic. Members of the Senate's Judiciary Committee held a hearing last month on the subject, and others in Congress seem poised to reintroduce cramdown as a means of rescuing ailing homeowners who can't keep up with their mortgage payments.

Cramdown's resurrection is largely owed to the utter failure of the Obama administration's existing homeowner relief efforts—namely, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). A $75 billion initiative run by Treasury, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, HAMP offers incentives to mortgage servicers (the sometimes ill-reputed companies who deal with customers, handle payments, etc., but don't own the loan) to lower payments, decrease interest rates, reduce owed principal, and extend the life of the mortgage. A good idea, in theory.

I may regret posting this, but here's an account of how George Bush tried to talk French president Jacques Chirac into supporting the invasion of Iraq:

Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.... The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn’t comply with Bush’s request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal.

....In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush’s strange behavior in Lausanne University’s review, Allez Savoir....Subsequently, ex-President Chirac confirmed the nutty event in a long interview with French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, who tells the tale in his new book, Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai (If You Repeat it, I Will Deny), released in March by the publisher Plon.

This isn't brand new: the Toronto Star wrote about it a couple of months ago, though it's gotten very little attention since.  In any case, consider it your weirdness of the day.  Not that we've exactly been lacking for that lately.....

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)