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California's Healthcare Battle In A Nutshell

| Sat Aug. 25, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

Leave it to the Washington Post to give the best synopsis I've read of the battle currently underway in California between the Republican governor (Schwarzenegger) and the Democratic legislature over efforts to create a statewide healthcare plan. Though California hasn't actually led the way in this kind of initiative (look to Hawaii and, much later, Massachusetts), its decision—due in three weeks—may well set the agenda for other states and presidential candidates to follow.

The urgency here, reports the Post, is that Californians are less likely to be covered than residents of 45 other states, and those who are covered are concerned it's not going to be there for them when they need it. . . [sure is a familiar feeling in my world, read: self-employed and paying scary, ever-increasing percentage of meager earnings for dubiously useable health insurance. . .] Read here for examples of why that is.

From the WP:

Under both the governor's proposal and the Democrats', employers would have to spend a minimum amount on health care for workers or pay money into a state-run purchasing pool through which people could buy private insurance. But the employer's fee under the Democrats would be higher—7.5 percent of payroll, compared with 4 percent of payroll under Schwarzenegger's plan. Another difference: The governor would require physicians to pay 2 percent of their revenue to the state, and hospitals 4 percent, to help finance the new system. The Democrats' plan has no such charges. The governor would require everyone to have a basic level of health insurance; the Democrats have no individual mandate. Both plans would expand public programs and subsidized coverage for low-income families. Neither is cheap. Schwarzenegger's plan would cost $12 billion annually and cover an estimated 4.1 million people; the Democrats' would cost $8.3 billion and cover 3.4 million.

Let's hope they reach a tenable consensus and trigger tons o' momentum on a national agenda. Once again, Californians, have more power than they realize. . . JULIA WHITTY

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Missing Icecap Begets More Melting

| Sat Aug. 25, 2007 2:57 AM EDT

This from Jeff Master's Wunderblog on the disappearance of summer Arctic sea ice. The record low was smashed (again) just last week:

With one third of the Arctic ice cap already gone, and another month of melting to go, we need to consider what effect this will have on weather, climate, and sea level rise. Well, we don't need to worry about sea level rise, since the polar sea ice is already in the ocean, and won't appreciably change sea level when it melts. However, the remarkable melting of the ice cap will likely lead to unusual weather patterns this fall and winter. The lack of sea ice will put much more heat and moisture into the polar atmosphere, affecting the path of the jet stream and the resultant storm tracks. Expect a much-delayed arrival of winter to the Northern Hemisphere again this year, which may lead to further accelerated melting of the ice cap in future years.

Here's an animation of the past, present and forecast future from UCAR. JULIA WHITTY

Russia Drowns NGOs in Red Tape

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 7:41 PM EDT

Strict enforcement of a new registration law is not only belaboring the work of NGOs in Russia but threatening their very existence. As the English-language daily the Moscow Times reports, many NGOs are struggling to comply with the new law's onerous demands.

Groups whose agenda present a challenge to the power-grasping Putin administration seem to have been singled out. The St. Petersburg-based Citizens' Watch, which seeks to protect constitutional rights from police and military encroachments, is now obligated to submit "the entirety of its written correspondence with anyone or any organization outside the office over a three-year period—including e-mails." Another group, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which promotes democracy and human rights, plans to take on an extra employee just to deal with the increased paperwork.

Some in the NGO world and elsewhere wonder whether the new measures are, at least partially, in response to the recent revolutions in former Soviet bloc countries. Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 and the Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 both toppled pro-Putin leaders through grassroots protests.

It's a pity Putin doesn't seem to realize that a strong state is helped, not hindered, by a strong civil society. Then again, perhaps it's too optimistic to expect a former KBG man, who has stacked his administration with former comrades, to allow the forces of transparency to operate unfettered.

— Ellen Charles

Freaky Friday Music News

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:58 PM EDT

The Nuge is On Fire

  • Ted Nugent confirms his insanity by going on an onstage rant in which he describes various acts certain Democrats could perform with the machine guns that he happened to be brandishing at the time. The profanity-filled clip (definitely NSFW) features the Nuge calling Barack Obama a "piece of s***... I told him to suck on my machine gun," and offering Hillary Clinton the opportunity to "ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless b****." More disturbingly, the crowd goes wild. Other politicians get a shout-out as well, and then he caps it off by hollering "Freedom!" Wow.
  • Jeez, more bad Amy Winehouse news? Do I have to write about it? You say it drives readership in key target demos? Fine. Well, she and her boyfriend apparently beat the crap out of each other, and then she said she did it to herself, despite the photographic evidence of them both looking utterly destroyed. The UK's Daily Mail published the photos. (Also possibly NSFW if you don't like bruises or blood or feeling really sad).
  • In less, um, tabloid-oriented news, MTV and MySpace will host "real-time, one-on-one presidential dialogues" where candidates will, I guess, text you abbreviated answers to questions like "WHR R U AT," or something. The first one, with John Edwards, is to be aired on MTV and webcast on MySpace on September 27th. (MTV News)
  • The tracklisting for Bob Dylan's elaborate box set, appropriately titled Dylan, has been determined, and published by Billboard. The compilation will be available in multiple versions including a cloth-covered box complete with lithograph prints and replica LP sleeves. The recent Mark Ronson remix of "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" will not be featured on any of the CDs but will be released on iTunes starting September 18. (Billboard)
  • Tony Snow Wants You (If You Are a Reserve Officer Who Supports the Surge)

    | Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

    A reader sends this email he received today from a retired Marine general addressed to members of the Reserve Officers Association of the United States. Reserve officers of the supposedly non partisan association are invited to share any "positive (and negative)" developments in Iraq they believe the press may have failed to report.

    Weird Weather Watch: Tropical Storm in the Midwest

    | Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:37 PM EDT

    Say what? That's right, the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin have plagued Ohio this week, causing the worst flood in a century, killing 25 and causing 1,000 homes to be evacuated. The crest of the flood has passed, but the rain is expected to continue. Oh yeah, in those places where it has cleared, record heat has taken its place. Take me to Ohio!

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    Electric Shocks Prompt "Impulsive" and "Primitive" Side of Brain

    | Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:36 PM EDT

    A recent study coming out of Britain finds that when the threat of electric shock looms near, humans shift from the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that governs rational thought) in order to engage the "fight or flight" part of the brain. In the study (published in its entirety yesterday in Science), volunteers played a game similar to Pac-Man, in which they had to evade a predator. When the computer predator caught them, they would receive a shock to the hand. Researchers found that as the predator closed in, the threat of iminent punishment moved the player's thinking from rational to impulsive and primitive.

    Continue reading this post on our environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

    Surge Is Pushing Iraq Toward Partition

    | Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:11 PM EDT

    If today's news on Iraq isn't bleak enough for you, take heart: There's more. Since the surge began, the rate of Iraqis fleeing their homes has increased 20-fold. Part of the increase can be attributed to increased monitoring by the Iraqi government (such as it is), but continued sectarian violence is the real driver of displacement: Sixty-five percent of displaced Iraqis interviewed by the U.N. said that they had fled in response to direct threats to their lives. With so many Iraqis fleeing from mixed Sunni/Shiite areas, Iraq is looking more and more like a partitioned state.

    Read more here about how the U.S. has hung its Iraqi supporters out to dry.

    MSNBC Reports Really, Really Fake News

    | Fri Aug. 24, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

    MSNBC.com reported yesterday that Michael Vick's dogfighting case is dividing African American leaders into two camps—one that criticizes the quarterback's cruelty to animals, and another whose members think his persecution is driven by a racist agenda. Supposedly leading the latter is the Reverend Al Sharpton, who the news group quotes at length.

    The problem, as Gawker and National Review Online have noted, is that not one word of the attribution came out of Sharpton's mouth. To the contrary, it came from News Groper [full disclosure: the associate editor was a fact-checker—can you feel the irony?—for Mother Jones], a website made up entirely of satirical celebrity blog entries. Sharpton can be pretty dramatic sometimes, but it's surprising that reporter Alex Johnson wasn't given any pause by the absurdity of the "quote":

    "If the police caught Brett Favre (a white quarterback for the Green Bay Packers) running a dolphin-fighting ring out of his pool, where dolphins with spears attached to their foreheads fought each other, would they bust him? Of course not," Sharpton wrote Tuesday on his personal blog. "They would get his autograph, commend him on his tightly spiraled forward passes, then bet on one of his dolphins."

    MSNBC got hip to the error and, rather than apologize to its readers for astoundingly sloppy reporting, posted in a correction that it "has determined that the blog is a hoax." The correction doesn't mention what tipped the news organization's meticulous fact-checkers off: News Groper's logo, which is a hand moving toward two globes that look like giant balls, or maybe breasts; Al Sharpton sharing a blog site with Lindsay Lohan, George Bush, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; or the words "fake parody blogs" in the title bar of every page.

    Electric Shocks Prompt "Impulsive" and "Primitive" Side of Brain

    | Fri Aug. 24, 2007 3:08 PM EDT

    A recent study coming out of Britain finds that when the threat of electric shock looms near, humans shift from the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs rational thought—in order to engage the "fight or flight" part of the brain. In the study (published in its entirety yesterday in Science), volunteers played a game similar to Pac-Man, in which they had to evade a predator. When the computer predator caught them, they would receive a shock to the hand. Researchers found that as the predator closed in, the threat of imminent punishment moved the player's thinking from rational to impulsive and primitive.

    This study makes me wonder, then, how autistic and mentally retarded students—profiled in "School of Shock," a feature from the current issue of Mother Jones—react to the constant threat of punitive electric shocks. If what the British study suggests is true and the threat of electric shock makes people less rational, I'd assume the shocks would also make it harder for autistic and developmentally disabled students to reason out why they're being punished. And if fear and the threat of electric shocks increase incidents of impulsive behavior, it seems like a vicious and terribly inefficient system to me, considering these impulsive acts are the very behaviors students are often punished for in the first place.

    In addition, a pervasive environment of fear at school (described in detail in our article) would also make academics more difficult because students are using the "fight or flight" part of their brain rather than the prefrontal cortex, which rules abstract reasoning and complex decision-making.