Blogs

Hospitals Fleece the Uninsured

| Tue May 8, 2007 2:36 PM EDT

Going without health insurance really wouldn't be so bad if independent patients could pay the same per procedure as insurance companies do. But U.S. hospitals charge patients without health insurance an average of 2.5 times more for services than fees paid by health insurers, and 3 times more than Medicare does. According to a new study, that gap has more than doubled in two decades. It effectively excludes the uninsured from the system. "Fifty years ago, the poor and uninsured were often charged the lowest prices for medical services," according to one author of the study, Gerard F. Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "The markups on care for those who can least afford it have got to end."

In other bad news, the Senate yesterday killed a move to allow patients to buy prescription drugs from abroad at a significant savings. They killed it by adding an amendment to require U.S. officials to certify the safety and effectiveness of each drug first, which would not be funded or feasible. To check for your own senator's vote, here's the roll call. A yes vote on the amendment meant they opposed drug imports. Obama, Brownback, and McCain didn't vote. Clinton voted no. Hagel, Kerry, and Kennedy voted yes to the amendment.

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Premature Births Linked to Pesticides

| Tue May 8, 2007 2:21 PM EDT

Premature births vary with the season, but there's nothing natural about it. Preterm birth rates peak when pesticides and nitrates measurements in surface water are highest, from April through July, and bottom out when nitrates and pesticides were lowest, in August and September, a new study found. A previous finding was that birth defects peak from April through July, the same months as pesticides and nitrates reach their maximum concentrations in surface water. The rate of premature birth in the United States has risen almost a third since 1981. Here's more on the effect of endocrine disruption in child development.

NY Times Hears the Call on Postal Rate Increases

| Tue May 8, 2007 1:01 PM EDT

If you aren't following the story of USPS's postal rate increase that unfairly targets small, independent magazines, read up!

Now that the New York Times is on board, the fight is going mainstream!

Six Arrested in New Jersey for Worst Plot Ever

| Tue May 8, 2007 11:29 AM EDT

If you've scanned the news today, you've probably seen the story about the six men who were arrested before they could execute a plan to attack New Jersey's Fort Dix Army base and "kill as many soldiers as possible."

According to a federal spokesman, four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Turkey and one was born in Jordan. A report on this that I saw earlier had a quote from a federal official calling their plot a potential act of terrorism, but that quote has been removed -- this is where definitions get murky -- and currently there is no evidence that a foreign terrorist organization was involved.

I will say this: Worst. Plan. Ever. Not to make light of a plot to kill American servicemen (or anybody, really), but is there a worse place for six random dudes to attack than a United States Army base? Why not rob the police station while you're at it? They couldn't think of something that might have a higher chance of success and lower than a 100% chance of death?

I guess that's the point -- martyrdom -- but seriously, folks.

One in Eight Iraqi Children Dies Before Turning Five Years Old

| Tue May 8, 2007 9:53 AM EDT

Incredibly depressing news about Iraq: "One in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005." I know this sounds simple-minded but my God, what an unbelievable horrible place to be a child, or maybe even worse, be a parent.

So yeah, the child mortality rate in Iraq has soared in recent years, and the war-torn country now ranks last in Save the Children's "child survival rankings." Ranking first is Iceland. The United States didn't do so well:

The U.S. placed 26th, tied with Croatia, Estonia and Poland. Nearly seven children die for every 1,000 live births in the United States. That was more than double the rate in Iceland, and 75 percent higher than rates in the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan and Slovenia.

Health care reform, anyone?

Seeding the Seas with Iron

| Mon May 7, 2007 7:54 PM EDT

dinoflagellate.jpg
Could sprinkling iron across the oceans prevent global warming? Sadly, it appears not. Since phytoplankton are the largest carbon dioxide sink on earth, larger than even all terrestrial plants, one idea was to dust the oceans with iron to feed phytoplankton. Scientists hoped the little organisms would quickly sink to about 300 meters, beyond the reach of that zooplankton, one level up on the food chain. Unfortunately, small-scale tests found that instead of sinking to the sea floor, the extra phytoplankton get quickly eaten by zooplankton, who metabolize and re-emit the carbon. Too bad. Still, a research ship is seeding waters around Galapagos anyway, just to bring attention to the role of phytoplankton in climate change.

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Obama on Energy Independence

| Mon May 7, 2007 2:42 PM EDT

The first two thirds of Obama's speech today got my hopes up that he was backing away from the corn-ethanol shtick. But the last third brought me down to earth. Even if corn-ethanol takes third place in his speech now, the corn-belt senator would probably never drop support for corn-ethanol subsidies, which may be the biggest greenwash ever.

All around, his proposals are better developed than in his speech one year ago. He proposes to raise fuel economy standards by 4 percent per year, instead of just 3 percent. He also wants to subsidize Detroit's move to hybrid vehicles. And he supports a carbon cap-and-trade system. What would work much better would be to tax carbon emissions and raise the fuel tax. But they don't call taxes the third rail for nothing.

Romney: I'll Make Up Anything if Pat Robertson Approves

| Mon May 7, 2007 12:48 PM EDT

Any francophiles out there that want to fact-check Mitt Romney?

"In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

Yup, Mitt Romney is courting the religious right (he made the statement at a graduation speech at Regent University, the college founded by Pat Robertson) the easiest way Republicans know how: bashing the French. Oh, and porn and violence:

"Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool."

Good heavens, can you imagine if Mitt Romney ever saw violent porn starring unmarried French people? His head would explode. But even a headless Mitt Romney would kowtow to the leaders of the religious right. You can't win in the GOP without doing so:

It was Romney's second appearance at Regent University in the past four months. His visits underscore the competition for support from top Christian conservative leaders such as Robertson, whose television programs have millions of viewers. Romney, along with several other GOP hopefuls, attended a convention of religious broadcasters in February. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will appear at Regent next month.

How Come Obama MySpace Page Creator Doesn't Have a Lawyer?

| Mon May 7, 2007 12:15 PM EDT

As Josh writes here, there has been quite the flurry over the changing of hands (from young paralegal and diehard supporter to Obama's official campaign staff) of the unofficial, yet official-looking, 160,000 friend-boasting Barack Obama MySpace page. When the scandal blew up, there was talk that the 160,000 MySpace friends Joe Anthony, said diehard supporter, rallied together were theoretically worth a bundle of cash, and therefore all moral questions aside, the Obama campaign should pay up. Micah Sifry, founder of techPresident, (a site that monitors campaigns' web strategies) noted on the site:

Care2, the massive progressive email list vendor, charges about $1 per email address that they generate for a campaign.

But like Sifry points out, Anthony could not have generated this large number of members if it weren't for Obama's success and charisma, so it's not like he could expect to make $160,000 plus, but I'm betting, if he'd played his cards right, he could've raked in some dough. I mean, these campaigns pay media consultants big money to gather supporters the way Anthony did. Apparently, though, contrary to what Obama's campaign staff were claiming -- that he was just looking for a "big payday" -- Anthony doesn't seem to be after money at all. Sifry writes on Friday:

Anthony is pondering donating the url over to a non-profit group, or trying to continue working with the community gathered around the site to make it into a kind of clearinghouse or forum on the presidential candidates in general.

He is also still planning to vote for Obama!? Alright, so, I know I should feel warm and fuzzy about this, but instead, I'm scratching my head. This guy could have made some money -- at the very least, he could have more adamantly demanded some compensation for his 2.5 year-long (Anthony maintained the page for 2.5 years) labor of love. Why didn't he? Are we really seeing loyalty to the Democratic movement trump selfish desires, did he just give up or did he not have the right counsel? He's a paralegal, right? Where were all his lawyer friends?

Military Identifies Media and Warlords as Non-Traditional Threats

| Mon May 7, 2007 10:50 AM EDT

Via CJR Daily and Wired, a look at the military's new list of traditional and non-traditional threats:

 army_media300.jpg

Yup. In light of the crackdown on milblogging, it only makes sense that the media would be considered a threat on par with al Qaeda, drug cartels, and my personal favorite, warlords. After all, when you're spreading democracy in Iraq, the first thing you want to do is illustrate exactly how hostile you are towards the First Amendment.