Friday, April 29, 2011

Storms, Tornadoes Devastate the South

In Focus wrote about Storms, Tornadoes Devastate the South "Powerful storms swept through the South and Midwest regions of the United States over the past several days, bringing with them heavy rainfall, flooding, hailstorms, lightning, and hundreds of devastating tornadoes. As of this morning, the death toll from the storm system has nearly reached 250 -- at least 128 of those in hard-hit Alabama. Neighborhoods have been flattened, thousands are without power across the region, and efforts to aid the trapped or injured continue in regions where many roads have become impassable. As residents work to recover what they can, they are preparing for yet another storm system predicted to pass through starting Saturday. Gathered here are images from the storm-damaged south and central U.S. over the past several days. [34 photos]"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Movie Review: Being Elmo

The Independent Film Festival of Boston got off to an amazingly strong start tonight with the documentary Being Elmo.

I was the first generation to grow up on Sesame Street and loved The Muppet Show but Elmo was a little past my time, so I had some trepidations about a documentary about the voice of Elmo. I thought I knew the story because of the universality of the muppets but the film is a biography of a person and a presentation of a profession I don't know much about.

Kevin Clash was born in Baltimore and was fascinated with puppets he saw on television. He started making them and his parents indulged him because he was so interested in it even though other kids, including his sister, teased him about it. He put on local puppet shows and got a job on local television (which put an end to the teasing). His mother called muppet designer Kermit Love who was gracious enough to arrange a visit to the muppet workshop. Miraculously the film has footage of this meeting and I was just as enthralled as Kevin. Clash worked on famous kids shows Captain Kangaroo and The Great Space Coaster. Through Kermit Love he played cookie monster in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and afterwards met his idol Jim Henson which led to a role in Labyrinth. That led to working on Sesame Street. Elmo was a puppet who had made several appearances but no one could find the right voice for him. Clash was given a chance and Elmo was born. Then the fame hit with the Tickle Me Elmo craze and tons of appearances all over the world.

Throughout the film you get details of the craft of puppetry. As a teenage puppeteer Clash was obsessed with finding out how they made the muppets without any seams. Love tells him about the Henson Stitch and the wonders of fleece. We see puppeteers try different voices on puppets to find the right personality. Later in the film Clash trains puppeteers for a french version of Sesame Street and you see him detail the hand gestures that go into the performance.

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I wondered about Clash making live appearances with children and if it breaks the illusion, but as he said in the Q&A, kids don't see him, they just see Elmo and I found myself doing the same thing. It demonstrates the strength of the performer. This isn't ventriloquism, he's standing right there, moving his mouth and doesn't interact with Elmo much. When Elmo talks Kevin disappears and when Kevin talks he hides Elmo's face hides in his chest. There's a bit of Magician's deception involved and this is different from a TV or movie where you don't see Kevin at all.

Being Elmo is remarkable. While there are no big set backs in Kevin's life (at least none shown) you see a kid work on his dreams, with the encouragement of family and mentors and achieve huge success. He also gives back in making countless appearances, mentoring others and making the world a happier place. It's got the right balance of story elements and enough of the craft to make it interesting but not too much to destroy the magic. It does pull easy emotional strings when the Make-A-Wish Foundation visits Sesame Street and when Jim Henson dies, but the muppets are kids dreams and of all celebrity deaths I think Henson's affected me most. As far as making children happy, Henson was the biggest star next to Walt Disney. And as with Disney it's thriving even after he's gone because of the work of people like Kevin Clash.

There was a Q&A with the filmmakers after the showing and Kevin and Elmo were there. It was the longest Q&A in IFFBoston history. He started by meeting any children in the audience.

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They then took questions from the adults, some to the director, some to Kevin and some to Elmo. Kevin also played Splinter in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Baby Sinclair on the 1991 show Dinosaurs ("Not the mama").

Someone asked what Kevin would like to do next in his career. He wants to stay with Elmo and do more (though he misses making puppets). He's pretty high up at Sesame Street, directing and co-producing the show. Even Elmo wants to direct. Here's some video I shot of the Q&A:

Here are the directors of the IFF Boston. Thanks for running a great festival.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Housing Price Index for the United States 2000-2010

Design&Geography wrote Housing Price Index for the United States 2000-2010 "I created the maps below (with Catherine Mulbrandon) to show the nominal Housing Price Index (HPI). They give a quick and easy glance at the bubble in housing prices in the United States by state."


How I Paid Only 1% of My Income in Federal Income Tax

Eric Schoenberg wrote in the Huffington Post, How I Paid Only 1% of My Income in Federal Income Tax. "In 2009, the median U.S. family had an income of just under $50,000, on which they would have paid roughly $2,761 (or about 5.5%) in federal income tax. I, by contrast, enjoyed an income of $207,415 in 2009, but paid only $2,173 (or 1.0%) in income tax."

Under the Net

Under the Net "During WW II Lockheed (unbelievable 1940s pictures). This is a version of special effects during the 1940's. I have never seen these pictures or knew that we had gone this far to protect ourselves. During World War II the Army Corps of Engineers needed to hide the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant to protect it from a possible Japanese air attack. They covered it with camouflage netting to make it look like a rural subdivision from the air."

You really should go to the site and look at the pictures.

A Trove of Historic Jazz Recordings, But You Can’t Hear Them

A Trove of Historic Jazz Recordings has Found a Home in Harlem, But You Can’t Hear Them "It turns out that one man—a jazz musician and technical genius—figured out a way. But during his lifetime, William Savory kept these recordings largely to himself. He refused to reveal how many recordings he had and what performances they contained. He let only a very few of his recordings be heard by a small number of acquaintances. Over time, the Savory collection became a tantalizing enigma to jazz connoisseurs who yearned for access to its treasures. The mystery ended last summer. Six years after Savory passed away, his collection was acquired by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. And jazz experts were stunned. The extent and quality of the Savory collection was beyond anything they had imagined."

"The question, however, is whether that will happen anytime soon. And if it doesn’t, music fans might be justified in putting the blame on copyright law. “The potential copyright liability that could attach to redistribution of these recordings is so large—and, more importantly, so uncertain—that there may never be a public distribution of the recordings,” wrote David G. Post, a law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, on the Volokh Conspiracy blog. “Tracking down all the parties who may have a copyright interest in these performances, and therefore an entitlement to royalty payments (or to enjoining their distribution), is a monumental—and quite possibly an impossible—task.”"

A 100-Year Plan for Nuclear Waste

MIT's Technology Review writes A 100-Year Plan for Nuclear Waste "The United States should plan to store spent nuclear fuel in cooling pools and concrete-and-steel casks for 100 years as it sorts out what should be done with it in the long term, according to a new study from MIT. Storing spent fuel temporarily, the study argues, is in some ways better than immediately transferring it into permanent underground storage at facilities like the proposed one at Yucca Mountain."

"When most nuclear plants were built in the United States, the plan was to reprocess the fuel, retrieving material that could be used to generate more electricity. As a result, plant designers included only enough storage space to deal with about a 10 years' worth of fuel. When, for multiple reasons, the idea of reprocessing was abandoned, the federal government took on the obligation to dispose of the fuel itself—but so far it hasn't done so. The question of what to do with spent fuel before sending it to permanent storage "has frankly been an afterthought," says Ernest Moniz, director of MIT's Energy Initiative and an author of the report. After decades of operation, many power plants have run out of room and are resorting to ad hoc approaches to deal with the spent fuel."

Jon Stewart Defends 9/11 Responders Again

Jon Stewart was at his best last night. He opened with a scathing attack of Congress for approving Cliff Stearns (R-FL) amendment to the Zadroga Bill (from March) that requires 9/11 Responders to be checked against the terrorist watch list before receiving benefits. If you don't think about it, that sounds ok, but Stewart rips through why it's ridiculous and insulting all while being hilarious.

I'm not sure why but they broke it up into two short videos:

The extended interview with Elizabeth Warren was also good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Movie Review: The Conspirator

I knew John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at the Ford Theatre. I didn't realize that he was part of a larger conspiracy that attacked other officials that night and that they were caught and tried in a military commission and hanged. Mary Surratt ran the boarding house where the conspirators met was also arrested, tried and has the distinction of being the first woman executed by the United States. Her guilt is less clear.

The Conspirator tells this story pretty well. It starts with a reenactment of the assassination and then transitions to a courtroom drama. I'm partial to courtroom stories and not knowing much about the story found it compelling. The conspirators were southerners and President Johnson and War Secretary Edwin Stanton wanted a quick military trial, not a civilian one) to protect the nation from future attacks. Sound familiar? It has amazing parallels to today. In fact, after the film I commented that it was odd seeing Kevin Kline (who played Stanton) as Dick Cheney.

As I read now in this PBS interview, Lincoln Assassination Film 'The Conspirator' Raises Timely Justice Questions, I'm shocked to see the script was written in the 1990s! "Well, the main thrust was at the center was -- is this extraordinary mother-son story and human story. As -- there happen to be parallels to the present never intended. I wrote this in the first few months of the Clinton presidency, and President Bush was not even yet the governor of Texas."

"When I first wrote it, people would say: "A fascinating story. I had no idea this took place. Nicely told, but what's its relevance to today?" I heard that over and over again those first eight years. After Sept. 11, 2001, I never heard that."

Still the story is the best part of the film. I thought it was shot uninterestingly and cut a little long. I also found the casting very distracting. Justin Long (the mac guy) and Alexis Bledel gave it a very TV feeling. James McAvoy as a lawyer looked like Josh Charles from The Good Wife. Colm Meaney, from Star Trek, was a general and head of the military commission. Stephen Root was a witness. They all did fine but I thought I was watching a TV movie.

Finger Signs

Is this what I'm missing by not subscribing to The Daily?

042211 news ring finger ss 1

What’s Left of the Left

Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a nice profile of Paul Krugman in New York Magazine, What’s Left of the Left.

The shocking truth about the birthplace of Obama’s policies

Ezra Klein argues, The shocking truth about the birthplace of Obama’s policies. "If you put aside the emergency measures required by the financial crisis, three major policy ideas have dominated American politics in recent years: a health-care plan that uses an individual mandate and tax subsidies to achieve near-universal coverage; a cap-and-trade plan that attempts to raise the prices of environmental pollutants to better account for their costs; and bringing tax rates up from their Bush-era lows as part of a bid to reduce the deficit. In each case, the position that Obama and the Democrats have staked out is the very position that moderate Republicans staked out in the early ’90s — and often, well into the 2000s."

Ira Glass on Creative Work

NPR Fresh Air: "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

— Ira Glass"

Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop

A Scientific American guest blog writes Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop. "Then, one day, things changed. He was looking through specimens when he found something more interesting than anything he had ever seen before. It was a fossil that looked like a cross between two different kinds of animals. It had the wrong mix of parts. It was--he would come to convince himself--a single individual of an entirely new order of beasts."

SETI Institute to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes

SETI Institute to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes. Sad but not a particularly big deal to me.

Raising the Medicare Age

I think Krugman raised a lot of interesting points in this short post, Raising the Medicare Age.

"As the Social Security Administration has shown, the gap between life expectancy in the top and bottom halves of the wage distribution has risen sharply."

"Cohn shows that adding 65 and 66-year olds to the private insurance pool would cause a devastating rise in costs."

"And then there’s the wisdom of Peter Cook: All in all I’d rather have been a judge than a miner. And what is more, being a miner, as soon as you are too old and tired and sick and stupid to do the job properly, you have to go. Well, the very opposite applies with the judges."

Monday, April 25, 2011

He's One of the Most Terrifying Rhetoricians the World Has Seen

Martin Amis on Christopher Hitchens. "He thinks like a child (that is to say, his judgments are far more instinctive and moral-visceral than they seem, and are animated by a child's eager apprehension of what feels just and true); he writes like a distinguished author; and he speaks like a genius. As a result, Christopher is one of the most terrifying rhetoricians that the world has yet seen."

It's a meandering ode to his friend.

What You Can Do With 100,000 Toothpicks

Scott Weaver's Rolling through the Bay on Vimeo "Scott Weaver's amazing piece, made with over 100,000 toothpicks over the course of 35 years, is a depiction of San Francisco, with multiple ball runs that allow you to go on 'tours' of different parts of the city"

Scott Weaver's Rolling through the Bay from Learning Studio on Vimeo.

Ripping Apart the Heritage Foundation

Invictus wrote in The Big Picture, Strawman Alert "As the Heritage Foundation’s fingers lose their collective grip on the last rung of the ladder of credibility, William Beach, who authored their analysis of the Ryan budget proposal, takes aim at Paul Krugman, who has arguably been the biggest — but hardly the only — thorn in his side.  Beach’s open letter is, regrettably, as pathetic as their recent budget analysis and subsequent hide-and-seek shenanigans with the unemployment rate.  While I disagree with much of what Beach has written, I think it might be instructive to put that disagreement aside and look instead at another facet of this debate."

"So, to recap: The Heritage analysis has been found wanting by Krugman, DeLong, Chinn, Shedlock, CR, Bonddad, Macroeconomic Advisers (among others), and seriously questioned by IHS Global Insight, whose model Heritage used. Apologies to any econ blogger I may have missed who’s weighed in on this. Yet Heritage, instead of addressing the concerns of its various critics, chooses to go after only Krugman. Why? My guess is that, given Krugman’s liberal leanings, the path of least resistance for Heritage is to simply point at him — to the exclusion of all others — cry “liberal with an agenda,” take their ball and go home."


Five Best Job Search Sites

Lifehacker collected the Five Best Job Search Sites.

Patients Are Not Consumers

Paul Krugman Patients Are Not Consumers "Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as ‘consumers’? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough."

An ER doc blogging in Movin' Meat also wrote, Why Patients are Not Consumers. There more to it than he states. Try asking a doctor at a hospital what various treatments costs, he probably doesn't know. It's hard enough to figure out what treatment you want if you can determine the options, try shopping around to compare prices. And of course none of this applies if you're brought into a hospital unconscious.

NYT Lab: Project Cascade

[nytlabs] Project Cascade "Cascade allows for precise analysis of the structures which underly sharing activity on the web. This first-of-its-kind tool links browsing behavior on a site to sharing activity to construct a detailed picture of how information propagates through the social media space. While initially applied to New York Times stories and information, the tool and its underlying logic may be applied to any publisher or brand interested in understanding how its messages are shared."

Watch the video on the site (I couldn't embed it). Here's a single screenshot:

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Independent Film Festival of Boston

The Independent Film Festival of Boston starts this Wednesday. I agree with the Boston Phoenix poll, it's the Best Film Festival of the city

I've got my pass and plan to see as many films as possible. Their online schedule by festivalgenius is great (particularly the grid view) and you can sync your online schedule with a free iPhone app.

The Boston Globe wrote Independent Film Festival Boston grows up, lets guard down and The Boston Herald wrote Hub indie film fest spotlights documentaries. TimeOut Boston has a guide.

I'll try to be blogging reviews but seeing ten films over the weekend will probably overwhelm me.

2011 Hugo Award Nominations

Renovation posts the 2011 Hugo Award Nominees. The only writing nomination I know of (well I blogged it but I haven't read it yet) is The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang.

In Best Graphic Story I've read Fables: Witches and The Unwritten, Volume 2: Inside Man and thought both were okay. Of the nominated films I've seen all the long form nominees and obviously Inception is the best. Of the shorts, I'm not sure how a 2 part Dr Who episode qualifies as short form and one is a music video which isn't sci-fi (must be a prank nomination). The Lost Thing won Best Animated Short in the Oscars this year.

Movie Production Flowcharts

I Believe in Advertising posted Canal+: Action Flowchart, Horror Flowchart, Animation Flowchart, Porno Flowchart, Short Flowchart. Five flowcharts of how to make various genre films.

A Brief History of Moving Buildings

A Brief History of Moving Buildings is really interesting, short and has great pictures.

It links to this 9 page article in The Strand Magazine from 1897, How Buildings are Moved. "The ingenuity of the Yankee is, indeed, of just repute."

Behind the Rising Cost of Food

The New York Times had an article Behind the Rising Cost of Food. So food prices are up because global demand is up and people aren't happy about it. Still they had this graph and my take away was "Wow, fresh fruit is cheaper!" How does that work?

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The Sandman: Dream Country

The NPR Monkey See blog published published an interesting book club discussion between Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon on Neil Gaiman's 'The Sandman: Dream Country,' Part One. Dream Country is the third volume in the definitive comic series of the 1990s.

Their discussion is about the story but also about the medium of comics as Holmes is new to it. I also read through all the comments, and I think the comments in this post might have the highest signal-to-noise ratio of any I've read on the internet.

Absurd Proposed Form for Getting a US Passport

State Dept. wants to make it harder to get a passport. You have until the end of day today to submit a comment to the state department at

"The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new  Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any ‘religious ceremony’ around the time of birth; and a variety of other information.  According to the proposed form, ‘failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.’"

The proposed form is here. Page 2 is absurd. List your mother's residence one year before, at the time of and one year after your birth. "Did your mother receive pre-natal or post-natal medicare care?" Where and what were the dates of the appointments! And that's not the most ridiculous question, that honor goes to “Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”

A list of employers does not provide citizenship proof, a birth or naturalization certificate does. If this form is for children of US citizens born abroad it should say so and it should still be more narrowly tailored.


Far Better Than 3-D: Animated GIFs That Savor A Passing Moment | Co.Design "But photographer Jamie Beck and motion graphics artist Kevin Burg may have finally found a way to elevate the animated GIF to a level approaching fine art, with their 'cinemagraphs' -- elegant, subtly animated creations that are 'something more than a photo but less than a video.' Here's one of my favorites:"

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See more cinemagraphs at their blog From Me To You.

Bill Blackbeard, The Man Who Saved Comics, Dead at 84

The Comics Journal writes Bill Blackbeard, The Man Who Saved Comics, Dead at 84 "Bill Blackbeard, without question or quibble, is the only absolutely indispensable figure in the history of comics scholarship for the last quarter century—and will undoubtedly retain the title for well into this century and beyond. On March 10, only a few weeks shy of his 85th birthday, Blackbeard died in California at Country Villa Watsonville East Nursing Home where he had been living for some time. But long before he died, Blackbeard knew he would live on in scores of books that reprint American newspaper comic strips, all compiled from his monumental collection. As reporter Kevin Parks said several years ago at ‘He saved the American comic strip—all of them.’"

Long but interesting story.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rachel Maddow Does a Great Job on Budget Arguments

Rachel Maddow had a really great segment on Friday

She started by talking about how Republicans are now having problems in town hall meetings. Here's a report from ThinkProgress on it. Town Hall Citizens Confront Rep. Sean Duffy For Voting To Privatize Medicare And Defend Tax Breaks For Rich. The embedded video is a little longer than the transcript they provide and it's all good stuff. I really liked the comparison of small US companies to Canadian ones stating that Canadian ones have an advantage because they don't have to pay for employees healthcare.

Maddow gave a few other examples of these town hall meetings involving Lou Barletta (R-PA), Robert Dold (R-IL) and Charlie Bass (R-NH).

She then pointed out that the beltway press is not covering this but sites like ThinkProgress (VIDEO: Paul Ryan Booed At Town Hall For Defending Tax Breaks For The Wealthy), DailyKos (Town halls turn hostile for Republicans over tax cuts for rich, Medicare) and Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post (GOP Reps Host Town Halls On Budget, Get Yelled At) are.

She goes on to point out the most responsible budget proposal in Washington. "The one that actually does the most about the deficit, that balances the budget 20 years earlier than Paul Ryan even tries to. That budget would let the Bush tax cuts expire, it would raise taxes on the very richest people in the country. It would cut defense spending which after all has doubled in the past decade and was already the biggest thing in the discretionary budget. It would end those subsidies for the little orphan oil companies and on health care costs which is still the budget eating dragon in America, what we would get is a public option. How does that sound compared to the cutting taxes for the rich and dismantling Medicare thing?"

This is the budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Here's a 12 page pdf (with big graphs) on it.

She then interviews Matt Miller about the budget and it's coverage. All good stuff. I wish she hadn't buried it in the second half hour on a Friday show.

Stopping Tax Evasion Would Add $4 Trillion to Federal Coffers

David Dayen in FireDogLake wrote Stopping Tax Evasion Would Add $4 Trillion to Federal Coffers.

"The CBO and other analysts estimate that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would add $4 trillion to revenue over the next 10 years. That’s roughly in line with the amount of money you could gain simply by ending all tax evasion. But of these two solutions, only one is actually credible. Because you’re not likely to stop all tax evasion. That’s especially true when you take into account the fact that the budget deal this month cut funding for the IRS, and added no new agents whose job it is to root out tax evasion. It doesn’t matter that every dollar spent on IRS enforcement brings back up to $10 in revenue, we’re in austerity mode, and the last thing the party in control of the House of Representatives want is for people to actually pay their taxes. "

High School Senior Leads Louisiana Fight Against Anti-Evolution Law

The Washington Post wrote High school senior leads Louisiana fight against anti-evolution law "A 17-year-old Baton Rouge high school senior is leading the fight to repeal a Lousiana law that gives teachers license to equate creationism with evolution -- and now he is doing it with the support of more than 40 Nobel laureates."

“The single most important reason why I took on this repeal was jobs,” Kopplin told me. “This law makes it harder for Louisiana students to get cutting-edge science-based jobs after we graduate, because companies like Baton Rouge’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center are not going to trust our science education with this law on the books.”

Jon Kyl Excises Non-Factual Statement from Congressional Record

NPR reported Sen. Jon Kyl Corrects Erroneous Statement On Planned Parenthood "Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) got a lot of grief after saying, during a speech on the floor, that 'well over 90 percent' of Planned Parenthood's activities are related to abortion. The number is actually 3 percent and when it was pointed out, Kyl's office put out a clarification, saying the Senator's statements weren't intended to be 'factual.'"

"Now, Politico reports that Kyl has stricken the phrase from the Congressional Record. And, yes, Talking Points Memo reports, Congress is allowed to do that."

I guess "Record" was #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

Does the Government Want to Read Your Texts and Emails?

Does the Government Want to Read Your Texts and Emails? » Blog of Rights: Official Blog of the American Civil Liberties Union "Last week the Justice Department squandered an opportunity to reassure Americans that as technology advances our civil liberties will not be left behind. The Justice Department was called before Congress to say whether it should be permitted to read people's email, text messages and other electronic communications without a probable cause warrant — that is, without a judicial determination that it has a good reason to believe a search will turn up evidence of a crime. The clear answer to this question should have been 'no.' After all, a warrant has been required for postal mail since at least the 1870s and for telephone conversations since the 1960s. Why shouldn't our email receive the same protection?"

"The main law protecting the privacy of our communications, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, hasn't been updated since 1986. That's before the Web was invented. It's time for Congress to update the law to forbid reading people's private electronic communications without a warrant and probable cause. And the courts should hold that a warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures of our personal papers and effects.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of what is at stake. Americans use electronic forms of communication for virtually every type of private exchange, from sharing personal advice and sending love letters to discussing medical ailments and conveying confidential business information. Electronic communications are not just augmenting postal mail and the telephone, they are replacing them. Nearly all Americans on the Internet send or read email and almost half send instant messages. Moreover, nearly three-quarters of Americans with cell phones use them to send text messages. Meanwhile, postal mail volume has plummeted so dramatically over the last couple of years that the U.S. Postal Service has been lobbying hard to eliminate Saturday delivery."

Is Pluto a Comet?

Universe Today reports on More Surprises From Pluto. "So here we have Pluto exhibiting an expanding atmosphere of thawing expelled gas as it gets closer to the Sun in an elliptical, eccentric orbit. (Sound familiar?) And now there’s another unusual, un-planet-like feature that’s being put on the table: Pluto may have a tail."

Two Cheers for the Welfare State

David Frum sees the light Two Cheers for the Welfare State. "Since the economic and electoral disasters of 2006-2009, Republicans have veered in a sharply libertarian direction. Why not put that new direction to the test of democracy? Perhaps Paul Ryan is right, and Americans (or anyway: voting Americans) have abruptly changed their minds during this economic crisis about their expectations from government. I’ll admit: I’ve also changed my mind during this crisis, but in the opposite direction"

"Especially after 2000, incomes did not much improve for middle-class Americans. The promise of macroeconomic stability proved a mirage: America and the world were hit in 2008 by the sharpest and widest financial crisis since the 1930s. Conservatives do not like to hear it, but the crisis originated in the malfunctioning of an under-regulated financial sector, not in government overspending or government over-generosity to less affluent homebuyers. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were bad actors, yes, but they could not have capsized the world economy by themselves. It took Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and — maybe above all — Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s to do that. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the free-market assumption and expectation that an unemployed person could always find work somewhere has been massively falsified: at the trough of this recession, there were almost 6 jobseekers in the US for every unfilled job. Nothing like such a disparity had been seen since the 1930s. The young faced the worst job odds. But some of the most dismal outcomes were endured by workers in their 50s, laid off from middle-class jobs likely never to see middle-class employment again."

"Speaking only personally, I cannot take seriously the idea that the worst thing that has happened in the past three years is that government got bigger. Or that money was borrowed. Or that the number of people on food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid increased. The worst thing was that tens of millions of Americans – and not only Americans – were plunged into unemployment, foreclosure, poverty. If food stamps and unemployment insurance, and Medicaid mitigated those disasters, then two cheers for food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid."

He goes on to back peddle a little bit but as Kevin Drum says "It's nice to read it because it's such an unusual concession to reality."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tim Minchin's Storm the Animated Movie

Mostly Tax Stuff

The Ryan plan cuts taxes for the rich — but why? - Ezra Klein - The Washington Post "Jon Chait is, of course, right that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget cuts taxes on the rich. It cuts them when compared with current law, under which the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012. It cuts them against Obama’s budget, under which the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 expire in 2012. And it cuts them even if you ignore the Bush tax cuts, as it repeals a variety of progressive taxes included in the Affordable Care Act. That it also closes loopholes and lowers marginal rates has no bearing on the fact that the rich will be paying less than they would under either current law or the president’s proposals. But I also understand why so many conservatives are going to such great lengths to deny that Ryan’s budget cuts taxes on the rich. Raising taxes on the rich is popular."


Mathew Yglesias in Paul Ryan's Plan to Deepen the Recession talks about his monetary policy.

David Cay Johnston in Willamette Week (never heard of it but Mark Thoma pointed to it) describes 9 Things The Rich Don't Want You To Know About Taxes:

1. Poor Americans do pay taxes.
2. The wealthiest Americans don’t carry the burden.
3. In fact, the wealthy are paying less taxes.
4. Many of the very richest pay no current income taxes at all.
5. And (surprise!) since Reagan, only the wealthy have gained significant income.
6. When it comes to corporations, the story is much the same—less taxes.
7. Some corporate tax breaks destroy jobs.
8. Republicans like taxes too.
9. Other countries do it better.

Visualizing Economics has a nice graphic on the Top Marginal Tax Rates 1916-2010:


Debt Ceiling Stuff

Ezra Klein writes about The scariest thing I’ve ever heard on television "At about the 1:50 mark in the clip atop this post, I make a face I’ve never made on television before. The segment was on the debt ceiling, and ‘Last Word’ host Lawrence O’Donnell played a clip of Rep. Michele Bachmann giving her plan. In short, her plan is that we don’t raise the debt ceiling, but we use the revenue still coming in to pay off creditors first and whatever we think most important second. That way, we ‘don’t violate our credit rating’ and ‘prioritize our spending.’ Makes perfect sense.

At least, it makes perfect sense unless you, like me, had spent the previous few days talking to economists, investors and economic policymakers about what could happen if we start playing games with the debt ceiling. Their answers were across-the-board apocalyptic. If the U.S. government is so incapable of solving its political problems that it can’t come to an agreement on the debt ceiling, they said, that’s basically the end of the United States as the world’s reserve currency. We won’t be considered safe enough to serve as the investment of last resort. We would lose the most important advantage our economy has in the global financial system — and we’d probably lose it forever. Skyrocketing interest rates would slow our economy and, in real terms, make it even harder to pay back our debt, which would in turn send interest rates going even higher. It’s an economic death spiral we associate with third-world countries, not with the United States."

He followed up with Bad debt ceiling ideas, Part II. "Sen. Pat Toomey, whom Weigel interviewed here, has introduced legislation stating that creditors get paid off first (which would mean that the government would shut down operations to use that money to pay off investors). Beutler notes that the Treasury has already declared this plan “unworkable,” as “adopting a policy that payments to investors should take precedence over other U.S. legal obligations would merely be default by another name, since the world would recognize it as a failure by the U.S. to stand behind its commitments.”"

"The market is worried about our long-term debt load. What we need is a plan that puts us on a better path going forward. The ability to do this gradually and thoughtfully is a great gift. But Toomey and Bachmann don’t want to do this gradually and thoughtfully. They want to let the debt ceiling run out and then start trying to cut spending while exempting creditors in real time. They want to do it, in other words, abruptly and riskily. They want to create crisis conditions when we have the luxury of planning."

He also points out that Ryan's (so serious) budget would require raising the debt ceiling, Republicans can’t meet their own deficit and spending targets. And he points to Matt Miller going mad about it, ‘The Shining’ — national debt edition. "Well, debt limit mania has driven me to a similar frenzied state. If my wife came across my manuscript it would read, “The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit. The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit.” I thought about making this week’s column that one sentence printed over and over 30 times. It would have been the opinion page equivalent of a Dada-esque protest against the inanity of the debate — and a cry for every news outlet to focus on this simple, clarifying fact."

Digby shows who owns the US debt and says "I have an idea. How about we tell the wealthy US investors that we won't be able to pay them back at the promised rate instead of the social security recipients? Let's just see what happens.":


All Those Vacant Judgeships

Linda Greenhouse on All Those Vacant Judgeships. "The administration is simply not nominating judges at an acceptable rate or making a public push for those it has nominated. For the current 17 vacancies on the federal appeals courts, there are only eight nominees. For 75 district court vacancies, there are 34 nominees. It’s possible to come up with explanations for some of these missing nominees — recalcitrance on the part of home-state senators, tardiness by the American Bar Association committee that vets potential nominees — but these numbers are huge. As of this month, President Obama is 33 judicial nominations behind where President George W. Bush was at the comparable point in his presidency, and 41 nominations behind President Bill Clinton."

Anthrax Redux

After playing some games I read these articles from a recent issue of Wired on the Anthrax attacks and Investigation. Interesting stuff.

This is the main long article, Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?.

This short side article I found pretty amazing. Postage Stamps Delivered Anthrax Suspect to FBI. "In December, 2006, U.S. Postal Inspection Service agent Tom Dellafera traveled to MeadWestvaco’s Altoona, Pennsylvania, production plant, and ordered a print run of a half-million of the so-called “Federal Eagle” envelopes. By comparing the microscopic differences in these blue eagle stamps to those in the original envelopes, Dellafera’s team was able to point to the part of the press run that produced the envelopes used by the anthrax mailer."

And there was this reminder, Did the Anthrax Attacks Kick-Start the Iraq War?.

Healthcare Articles

The New York had a fascinating article on Hospice medical care for dying patients. It's very much worth your time to read.

The Atlantic had another good article God Help You. You're on Dialysis.

Here's a NY Times Magazine article from 2005 on the value of autopsies, Buried Answers.

Yes, after reading these on Instapaper on a recent flight, I then played some games on the iPad.

Is Sugar Toxic?

Is Sugar Toxic?. "Lustig’s argument, however, is not about the consumption of empty calories — and biochemists have made the same case previously, though not so publicly. It is that sugar has unique characteristics, specifically in the way the human body metabolizes the fructose in it, that may make it singularly harmful, at least if consumed in sufficient quantities."

"The fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose. In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers."

It's a very good article.

The Real American Exceptionalism

The Real American Exceptionalism "What is this American exceptionalism Republicans so venerate? After interviewing many Republican leaders,  Washington Post Reporter Karen Tumulty concludes it is the belief that America ‘is inherently superior to the world’s other nations’.  It is a widely held belief.  Indeed, most Americans believe our superiority is not only inherent but divinely ordained.  A survey by the Public Religious Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agree with the statement, ‘God has granted America a special role in human history.’

Let me make it clear at the outset.  I too believe in American exceptionalism, although I don’t think God has anything to do with it.  But I suspect my perspective will find little favor among Republicans in general and Tea Party members in particular.  For I believe that America is exceptional in the advantages we’ve had over other nations, not what we’ve done with those advantages."

3 Major Issues with the Latest iPhone Tracking “Discovery”

Alex Levinson (who worked on the book iOS Forensic Analysis) describes 3 Major Issues with the Latest iPhone Tracking “Discovery”. "1) Apple is not collecting this data. 2) This hidden file is neither new nor secret. 3) This “discovery” was published months ago."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Restrepo Documentarian Tim Hetherington Confirmed Killed in Libya

Restrepo Documentarian Tim Hetherington Confirmed Killed in Libya "Having survived many dangerous photographic missions in his life, as well as repeated trips to the lethal Restrepo outpost in Afghanistan—now abandoned by U.S. military—where he shot Oscar-nominated doc Restrepo with co-director Sebastian Junger, British photojournalist and Vanity contributor Tim Hetherington, 41, has died during fighting in Misrata between Muammar Gaddafi’s soldiers and Libyan rebels, along with photographer Chris Hondros."

Restrepo is one of the best war films I've ever seen, well worth seeing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Byliner Launches With A Splash, Aims To Disrupt Long-Form Journalism

Byliner Launches With A Splash, Aims To Disrupt Long-Form Journalism, "Byliner may wind up disrupting the likes of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker more than it disrupts publishing houses. If blogs deconstructed the breaking news element of newspapers and magazines, Byliner is trying to disrupt the investigative cover story."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Goldman Sachs Accused of Misleading Investors

Don't have time to look in more depth but the BBC reports Goldman Sachs Accused of Misleading Investors. "On Wednesday, the Senate subcommittee said it had found 'a variety of troubling and sometimes abusive practices' by banks in 2007 as the credit crisis began.

The report said that Goldman marketed four sets of complex mortgage securities to banks and other investors, but failed to tell them the investments were very risky.

In addition, the report said the bank did not mention that it was itself betting that the investments' value would fall, indicating it sold products to clients it did not believe in backing itself.

Carl Levin, the Democrat who heads the subcommittee, told a press briefing that Goldman had 'exploited' clients."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Budget Speech

I didn't watch the speech live and am traveling soon so I'll be pretty quiet til next week. Still, Krugman liked The Budget Speech. "Overall, way better than the rumors and trial balloons. I can live with this. And whatever the pundits may say, it was much, much more serious than the Ryan ‘plan’."

"Substance: Much better than many of us feared. Hardly any Bowles-Simpson — yay! The actual plan relies on some discretionary spending cuts, this time including defense — good, although I think too much is being cut from domestic spending. It relies on letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire — finally! — plus unspecified reductions in tax expenditures. The main thing, though, is the strengthened role of and target for the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This can sound like hocus-pocus — but it’s not."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Imbalanced Budget Deal?

Nate Silver explains why it's not such An Imbalanced Budget Deal? "In other words, I estimate that the median member of the House actually wanted to cut the budget a bit more than the deal that was agreed upon — by about $51 billion rather than $38.5 billion."

"But the notion that Democrats were going to get a radically better deal, with Republicans having such a large and conservative majority in the House, is probably unrealistic. It’s also conceivable that they would have gotten a worse one — say $45 or $50 billion in cuts — had Mr. Boehner made a bolder offer initially."

Either way, we need more stimulus to lower unemployment, not spending cuts.

A Word From Those Who

Paul Krugman in A Word From Those Who complains about the news analyses of the Ryan plan.

"People like me don’t say that the Ryan plan is too radical; we say that it’s a fraud. The spending cuts are largely fake, either because they’re just magic asterisks or because they wouldn’t survive politically; the revenue estimates are fake, because they combine huge tax cuts with vague assurances that extra revenue will be found by closing loopholes. There’s no there there — except for big tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor."

"I like that phrase, conventional wisdom mad libs. Anyway, no, I don’t think the plan goes too far. I think it’s disingenuous and fraudulent. And the reason I think that is that I have actually done the math."

Guantanamo Teen Was Tortured, Asked To Spy On Other Detainees

Guantanamo Teen Was Tortured, Asked To Spy On Other Detainees "Another former victim of U.S. torture, a child kidnapped and sold to the Americans to be exploited for propaganda and intelligence purposes, drifts off into the misty haziness of neglect and forgetfulness that obscures the truths of our time, courtesy of a President and Congress insistent on burying U.S. crimes as deeply out of public consciousness as possible."

Progressives Must Stand up to the President

Cenk Uygur says Progressives Must Stand up to the President. "So, in the end, he got no credit for the original giant cuts, he got no credit for going a billion past the Republican's wildest dreams and he had to give them an extra $5.5 billion to get a deal. But what he doesn't realize is that the shutdown would have been a disaster for the Republicans -- they never wanted that. They were playing him the whole time. When Boehner came back with the deal, he got a rousing ovation from his side, including the Tea Party faction."

"The whole point of the insane, draconian, ridiculous Paul Ryan budget proposal for next year was to move the spectrum all the way to the radical right, so that they can lure Democrats to a false middle, that is in reality the far right. It's time to stop playing nice with Democrats. Good cop-good cop doesn't work. We need a bad cop. We need a strong progressive wing to keep shouting "no deal!" every time the White House wants to concede (which will be every time)."

Climate Change Breaks NASA's Temperature Charts

Climate change breaks NASA's temperature charts "The Arctic is getting so warm in winter that James Hansen had to add a new colour to the standard legend - pink, which is even warmer than dark red:"


Saturday, April 09, 2011

This is What Happens When You Extend Unpaid-For Tax Cuts

This is from January 27th but I just ran across it, This is What Happens When You Extend Unpaid-For Tax Cuts. "Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – Congress' nonpartisan fiscal scorekeeper – released their revised budget and economic outlook for fiscal year (FY) 2011 through FY 2021. The most newsworthy element of the new estimates is this year's revised deficit projection. As most media outlets noted, Uncle Sam's predicted budgetary shortfall for 2011 went from just over $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion. Extension of the unpaid-for Bush tax cuts comprises almost the entire additional shortfall."

The Deal

David Dayen writes The Ugly, the Ugly, and the Ugly: A Look at the 2011 Funding Deal. "Therefore, this deal inked late last night cut $58.5 billion from the level of McCaskill-Sessions. This equals all of the tax advantages that didn’t extend current law, outside of the business expensing provisions, in the December 2010 tax cut deal. The entire stimulus is gone. Incidentally, John Boehner made an additional point – because the cuts to agency appropriations end up setting a new baseline and magnifying over time, the total impact of cuts in this bill is $500 billion over the next decade. This comes at a time of 8.8% unemployment, when many economists believe additional fiscal stimulus is needed to prop up a nascent and still-fragile recovery. But Washington has gone into austerity mode. You had a Democratic President last night touting the “largest annual spending cut in our history,” as if that were something of which to be proud. Yet it’s undeniable that this cut sets the country backwards and puts it on bad footing for the additional bigger spending fights ahead"

Ezra Klein writes 2011 is not 1995 "The substance of this deal is bad. But the way Democrats are selling it makes it much, much worse."

Robert Reich puts it in schoolyard terms, Why the Right-Wing Bullies Will Hold The Nation Hostage Again and Again. "It is impossible to fight bullies merely by saying they’re going too far."

Here are Lessons in Negotiations from Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt

Mathew Yglesias explains how the Debt Ceiling and Shutdown fights will have different dynamics.

Donald Trump Responds

Donald Trump Responds in the New York Times to an article about his birther ideas. It's stupid and poorly written and therefore pretty funny.

FactCheck says Donald, You're Fired!

Sidney Lumet Died

Here's the NY Times obituary, Sidney Lumet, 86, Director of Modern Film Classics, Dies.

His first film was 12 Angry Men. It's one of my favorite films and it started me on lifelong love of courtroom dramas.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was my favorite film of 2007. I know others have seen it on my recommendation and didn't like, but I still do. I liked the out of sequence story telling and the strong performances of profoundly broken characters.

1964's Fail-Safe changed the way I see films. I won't say why (unless you've seen it), but it made every film I've seen since better.

Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Serpico are just great films that everyone should see.

I know The Verdict is acclaimed but I'm not a huge fan. I think it's the fault of Mamet's script and not Newman or Lumet. Too many plot points happen off camera.

Strip Search was a great film made for HBO in 2004. It aired only once as HBO was too afraid of political fallout. It's about the aftermath of 9/11 and the Patriot Act. It's two cross-cut interrogations, one in the US and one in China. You'll probably feel different toward the two suspects but then you realize the dialog between the two stories is almost identical. It's the kind of thing I'd expect to find in Playhouse 90 or Studio One, which of course is where Lumet got his start. It's hard to find but if you can, it's well worth seeing.

He also wrote one of my favorite books on film, Making Movies. It's only 200 pages but it really explains all the details of each part of how a film gets made and it's entertaining with a lot of stories from his career.

Update: 5 Essential Life Lessons From the Films of Sidney Lumet

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Health Benefits of Coffee vs Tea Infographic

The Health Benefits of Coffee vs Tea Infographic

The barnacles attached to the budget deal

Ezra Klein wrote about The barnacles attached to the budget deal "I’ve been looking for a full list of the policy riders Republicans attached to their spending bill and it turns out OMB Watch has put one together. There’s some very strange stuff in there: One prohibits the government from funding a database of consumer complaints about financial products. Another blocks the government from enforcing clean-water standards in Florida. A third stops the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from collecting information ‘on multiple sales of rifles or shotguns to the same person.’ For the record, if someone is stocking up on deadly weaponry, that’s the sort of thing I’d like law-enforcement officials to know. But, as Brian Beutler reports, there are really two riders standing between John Boehner, Harry Reid and a deal: one that prohibits the government from funding Planned Parenthood and one that prohibits the EPA from regulating carbon (actually, both go a bit further than that, but those are their main purposes). "

The OMB Watch pdf is 4 pages and is interesting. It's a long list of "prohibit funds for" various things Republicans hate. Things that affect the environment are the longest list but there are other things. "Prohibits transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay." is apparently in two sequential sections of the bill and in the next one is "Prohibits constructing facilities to house detainees in Guantanamo Bay." so that works well. It's also against job training, "Prohibits funding for competitions for new Job Corps centers."

Apparently they're also against school lunches. "Prohibits funding for carrying out section 19 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act." which I think is a Farm-to-School program to "improve access to local foods in schools." Now maybe the argument is we can't afford this? but is this so big a deal to bring it up specifically?

Though my favorite (and I know nothing about it) is "Prohibits funds to provide nonrecourse marketing assistance loans to mohair farmers."

Time to Update the Constitution?

A month ago Fareed Zakaria wrote a very interesting essay, Are America's Best Days Behind Us?. "The tragedy is that Washington knows this. For all the partisan polarization there, most Republicans know that we have to invest in some key areas, and most Democrats know that we have to cut entitlement spending. But we have a political system that has become allergic to compromise and practical solutions. This may be our greatest blind spot. At the very moment that our political system has broken down, one hears only encomiums to it, the Constitution and the perfect Republic that it created. Now, as an immigrant, I love the special and, yes, exceptional nature of American democracy. I believe that the Constitution was one of the wonders of the world — in the 18th century. But today we face the reality of a system that has become creaky. We have an Electoral College that no one understands and a Senate that doesn't work, with rules and traditions that allow a single Senator to obstruct democracy without even explaining why. We have a crazy-quilt patchwork of towns, municipalities and states with overlapping authority, bureaucracies and resulting waste. We have a political system geared toward ceaseless fundraising and pandering to the interests of the present with no ability to plan, invest or build for the future. And if one mentions any of this, why, one is being unpatriotic, because we have the perfect system of government, handed down to us by demigods who walked the earth in the late 18th century and who serve as models for us today and forever."

The other day The Economist commented on it, Constitutionally rotten and then again, In defence of the constitution.

Another Edition of What Ezra Klein Said

The Democrats have a plan for controlling health-care costs. Paul Ryan doesn’t.

"At the heart of Ryan’s budget are policies tying the federal government’s contribution to Medicare and Medicaid to the rate of inflation — which is far, far slower than costs in the health-care sector typically grow. He achieves those caps through cost shifting. For Medicaid, the states have to figure out how to save the money, and for Medicare, seniors will now be purchasing their own insurance plans and, in their new role as consumers, have to figure out how to save the money. It won’t work, and because it won’t work, Ryan’s savings will not materialize."

"The Affordable Care Act’s central hope is that Medicare can lead the health-care system to pay for value, cut down on overtreatment, and cut out treatments that simply don’t work. The law develops Accountable Care Organizations, in which Medicare pays one provider to coordinate all of your care successfully, rather than paying many doctors and providers to add to your care no matter the cost or outcome, as is the current practice. It also begins experimenting with bundled payments, in which Medicare pays one lump-sum for all care related to the successful treatment of a condition rather than paying for every piece of care separately. To help these reforms succeed, and to help all doctors make more cost-effective treatment decisions, the law accelerates research on which drugs and treatments are most effective, and creates and funds the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to disseminate the data.

If those initiatives work, they head over to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which can implement cost-controlling reforms across Medicare without congressional approval — an effort to make continuous reform the default for Medicare, even if Congress is gridlocked or focused on other matters. And if they don’t work, then it’s up to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, a funded body that will be continually testing payment and practice reforms, to keep searching and experimenting, and when it hits on successful ideas, handing them to the IPAB to implement throughout the system.

The law also goes after bad and wasted care: It cuts payments to hospitals with high rates of re-admission, as that tends to signal care isn’t being delivered well, or isn’t being follow up on effectively. It cuts payments to hospitals for care related to infections caught in the hospitals. It develops new plans to help Medicare base its purchasing decisions on value, and new programs to help Medicaid move patients with chronic illnesses into systems that rely on the sort of maintenance-based care that’s been shown to successfully lower costs and improve outcomes."


Stanley Kubrick's screenplay for Napoleon is on Google Docs.

Jon Stewart on Glen Beck's Leaving Fox

Jon Stewart did a great Glen Beck homage last night about Beck's parting from Fox News. Great stuff. The video is in four parts, here's the first (I suspect it will progress to the others as you finish).

Radiation Levels Explained: An exposure infographic

A Scientific American guest blog shows Radiation Levels Explained: An exposure infographic.

"There’s been a lot of confusion and concern about radiation in the past few weeks. As part of the Building a Better Explainer project at NYU’s Studio 20, we decided to create a visual explainer of radiation levels, inspired by some recent presentations over at XKCD and Information is Beautiful.

Rather than use a lot of tiny boxes or a logarithmic scale, we placed all the numbers on a vertical linear scale (it’s pretty long, just keep on scrolling down). Our hope was to transform something you can't see, smell, taste or feel into something a bit more tangible."

I like it. I think I'd reorganize the items at the top a little so that say 3000, 3600 and 3650 were all next to each other, but that's minor. The thing I did learn was that "smoking 1.5 packs a day for a year" exposes you to 36,000 micro-sieverts, or 10 times the normal yearly background dose. Cigarettes are radioactive. Huh.

More Economic Healthcare Political Stuff

I don't know whether to believe any of this or not but Karl Smith says Making the Ryan Economic Assumptions Work "I should note that every single one of these projections is utterly possible and indeed internally consistent. Paul Ryan and Heritage are implicitly assuming a repeal of US immigration restrictions."

Mathew Yglesias says Paul Ryan’s Budget Is Justified By Implausible Projections, But Doesn’t Rely On Them. "Ryan’s proposals are all oriented around shares of GDP. On taxes, for example, he proposes cuts in the income tax rates paid by high-income people and then stipulates that total revenue will nonetheless equal the Bush share of GDP via a mysterious middle class tax increase. Similarly, what he does with Medicare is first privatize it, and then stipulate that the private vouchers will grow at the rate of general inflation plus one percent. Under that plan, Medicare spending as a share of GDP shrinks by definition."

"The math of this part of his agenda is totally impeccable. What’s deficient is the public policy and this is where Heritage’s bad math kicks in. After all, why would you enact this crazy agenda? Now in the case of Paul Ryan the answer is pretty clear—he’s an Ayn Rand fanatic who believes that any effort, whether public or private, to help the poor is immoral. But it’s difficult to sell that as a political agenda! So instead his argument is that we should do it for the macroeconomic benefits. What benefits? Well, the benefits the Heritage Foundation is pretending the plan will have."

Ryan's plan is title "Path to Prosperity" but chuck Marr of CBPP says it's that Just for the Wealthy and is a cruel joke. "For the wealthy, Ryan’s proposals are pure gold...But for working families, whose living standards have stagnated in recent decades, Ryan’s plan seems designed to make it harder for them to help their children have a better life." He gives some examples, but also this graph:


Mathew Yglesias points out what to me seems obvious but he has a graph that should be convincing to anyone. Closing The Deficit By Creating Jobs.


Ezra Klein gives Some guidelines for controlling health-care costs

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hiring the Best Candidates

A couple of days ago I posted No Degree, Little Experience Pay Off Big about how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker hired an unqualified son of a big doner as head of environmental and regulatory affairs at the Commerce Department. Last night Rachel Maddow showed the qualifications of some of the other candidates for that position.

Since the story broke Walker has demoted the 27 year-old. The other candidates were:

"The first, Oscar Herrera, is a former state cabinet secretary under Republican Gov. Scott McCallum with a doctoral degree and eight years' experience overseeing the cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites. The second, Bernice Mattsson, is a professional engineer who served since 2003 in the post to which Deschane was appointed. By contrast, Deschane has no college degree, little management experience and a couple of drunken-driving convictions. His father represents a trade group that gave more than $121,000 to Walker and his running mate."

As Maddow said, if you think government is the problem, maybe you suck at running it (ok, I paraphrased slightly). Jon Stewart used to phrase it as, it only sucks when you (meaning Republicans) run it.

25+ iPhone Comic Strips to Put a Smile on Your Face!

AppStorm has collected n25+ iPhone Comic Strips to Put a Smile on Your Face!

Frequently Used Trailer Cues | FILMdetail

FilmDetail has a collection of Frequently Used Trailer Cues. "Various pieces of film music often end up in trailers for other movies but some appear more frequently than others. When you watch a trailer for an upcoming film, the music featured is not necessarily what you hear in the final cut. Often this is because the film and score haven’t been finished, but there are some musical cues that keep re-appearing. The movie music website have compiled a long list of frequently used cues from trailers and here are the top five."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

More Krugman on Ryan

Paul Ryan's Multiple Unicorns. "Ryan is assuming that everything aside from health and SS can be squeezed from 12 percent of GDP now to 3 1/2 percent of GDP. That’s bigger than the assumed cut in health care spending relative to baseline; it accounts for all of the projected deficit reduction, since the alleged health savings are all used to finance tax cuts. And how is this supposed to be accomplished? Not explained."

Where the Spending Cuts Go. "Ryan is proposing huge (and largely unspecified) spending cuts; but he’s also proposing very large tax cuts, mainly, of course, for those with high incomes. And as you can see, a large part — roughly half — of the spending cuts are going, not to deficit reduction, but to finance those tax cuts."

Memory Hole Alert. The Heritage Foundation has already removed the 2.8 percent unemployment figure from their report. In fact they removed all their "Civilian Unemployment Rate" estimates. "I mean, really, guys — this is all over the blogosphere; did you really think you could get away with pretending it was never there?"

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Earth Has A Companion Asteroid With a Weird Orbit

Earth Has A Companion Asteroid With a Weird Orbit "There are plenty of near-Earth asteroids out there, but this latest one studied by two researchers at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland is extremely rare in that it has a weird, horseshoe-shaped orbit. Not that Asteroid 2010 SO16 does an about-face and turns around in mid-orbit — no, the asteroid always orbits the Sun in the same direction. But because of its unique orbital path and the gravitational effects from both the Earth and the Sun, it goes through a cycle of catching up with the Earth and falling behind, so that from our perspective here on Earth, its movement relative to both the Sun and the Earth traces a shape like the outline of a horseshoe: it appears to approach, then shift orbit, and go farther away without ever passing Earth."

Lagrange Horseshoe Orbit 575x580 1

More on Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan

Ezra Klein has, as usual, been busy. First he provides Paul Ryan’s budget in summary which is nice and short. Then he points out that CBO looks at RyanCare. "Medicare beneficiaries will be left paying more for less and...Medicaid’s are simply getting less." "As the CBO recognizes, a lot of what Ryan is doing isn’t saving money so much as shifting costs. Poor people and seniors don’t need less health care because Medicare and Medicaid are providing less health care. They just have to pay for more of it on their own."

He then gets more into Paul Ryan’s funny numbers. "For one thing, he’s assuming repealing the Affordable Care Act will save $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office says keeping Affordable Care Act saves more than $200 billion over the same period...So something is wrong there." "Then there’s Ryan’s admission, on page 59, that’s he’s using dynamic scoring, which is a scoring model in which the cost of tax cuts is blunted by assumptions about future growth caused by the tax cuts...What we do know is that the model is returning some truly off-the-wall results. It assumes, for instance, that Ryan’s budget will bring unemployment down to 2.8 percent in 2021. That’s just bananas."

FDL writes Ryan’s Budget Plan Is Ridiculous, But It Could Shift the Debate. "So this is a pretty pathetic budget. And it also happens to be a complete fiction. The numbers are not to be trusted at all. Ryan assumes $1.4 trillion in savings from health care repeal when the Congressional Budget Office scores repeal as increasing the deficit. He uses "dynamic scoring"; to perpetuate a fiction that tax cuts will increase tax revenue. He sets unrealistic spending caps without determining how to get there or how future Congresses not bound by his budget will abide by them. Worst, he assumes a world-historical low unemployment rate based on a Heritage Foundation study that claimed the Bush tax cuts would lead to the same kind of prosperity (hint: they didn't). Indeed, by 2021, Ryan assumes a 2.8% unemployment rate, which is how he achieves the revenue needed to make the numbers work. Included with this projection is an implausible housing boom. Jim Tankersley and Katy O'Donnell, middle-of-the-road journalists, say in their headline that the plan "pushes optimism to the outer limits."...As long as everyone's throwing around the word "serious," this is the least serious budget proposal in recent history. It's made up of unicorns and rainbows. That's aside from the fact that kicking 32 million Americans off their health insurance is fundamentally immoral."

Robert Reich makes the case Paul Ryan's Plan, the Coming Shutdown, and What's Really at Stake "That’s why it’s so important that the President have something more to say to the American people than ‘I want to cut spending, too, but the Republican cuts go too far.’ The ‘going too far’ argument is no match for a worldview that says government is the central problem to begin with. Obama must show America that the basic choice is between two fundamental views of this nation. Either we’re all in this together, or we’re a bunch of individuals who happen to live within these borders and are mainly on their own."

Mathew Yglesias explains Conservative Opposition To Human Happiness. He quotes two reports of two conservative conferences. Comparing life now to that in the early 60s people are lazy and playing video games instead of working hard (I'm summarizing badly here). "In both cases the conservative conceit seems to be that a decline in human suffering is a bad thing because it leads to a corresponding decline in admirable anti-suffering effort."

Leaks send radioactivity into ocean at Fukushima, cleanup to take years

Ars has the latest Leaks send radioactivity into ocean at Fukushima, cleanup to take years.

Paul Ryan’s Plan

Ezra Klein looked at the Medicaid portions of Ryan's plan Cutting Medicaid means cutting care for the poor, sick and elderly. "Ryan’s op-ed introducing his budget lists Medicaid under “welfare reform,” reflecting the widespread belief that Medicaid is a program for the poor. That belief is wrong, or at least incomplete. A full two-thirds of Medicaid’s spending goes to seniors and people with disabilities — even though seniors and the disabled are only a quarter of Medicaid’s members. Sharply cutting Medicaid means sharply cutting their benefits, as that’s where the bulk of Medicaid’s money goes."

"But perhaps cutting it wouldn’t be so bad if there were a lot of waste in Medicaid. But there isn’t. Medicaid is cheap. Arguably too cheap. Its reimbursements are so low many doctors won’t accept Medicaid patients. Its costs grew less quickly than those of private insurance over the past decade, and at this point, a Medicaid plan is about 20 percent cheaper than an equivalent private-insurance plan. As it happens, I don’t think Medicaid is a great program, and I’d be perfectly happy to see it moved onto the exchanges once health-care reform is up and running. But the reason that’s unlikely to happen isn’t ideology. It’s money. Giving Medicaid members private insurance would cost many billions of dollars."

Yglesias follows up, Paul Ryan Slams Medicaid’s Middle Class Beneficiaries As The New Welfare Queens. "And what about the steep Medicaid cuts? Well according to Ryan op-ed they’re a kind of “welfare reform”. In other words, people are supposed to think Medicaid is that “bad” kind of government spending, the one that goes to shiftless black folks not hard-working Americans like you and me and Paul Ryan."

Medicaid "is mostly a program for the elderly and the disabled. It’s the main way we finance long-term care in this country. If you don’t directly benefit from it, you very likely have a parent or grandparent who does and whose financial needs will simply tend to fall on you if the program is cut. Meanwhile, in terms of the “welfare” aspect of Medicaid by far the largest set of poor people it covers are poor children. Is Ryan’s view that these kids should have worked harder to have rich parents?"

As to his Medicare proposals, Kevin Drum asks So Where's the Medicare Plan?. He says there's just two paragraphs in his proposal. "For now, I'm going to assume that I'm missing something. There must be a more detailed document around somewhere that I haven't found yet." Later he wrote: "his Medicare proposal is basically just a PR document, right? It has zero chance of being enacted, and there's pretty much zero chance of anything like it being enacted. It's just a conversation starter, not a serious attempt to produce a workable piece of legislation."

Ryan released a whole proposed budget. The National Journal writes, The Ryan Budget: Big Cuts, Bigger Questions. Mathew Yglesias points out Paul Ryan’s Tax Plan Based On Discredited Heritage Foundation Analysis That Forecast Bush Boom and then picks up on one point, Paul Ryan’s Plan Counts On Reducing Unemployment To Below “Full Employment” Level — By Magic!. "An analysis performed by the conservative Heritage Foundation at Ryan’s request found the unemployment rate would be reduced to 4 percent in 2015 by Ryan’s budget, an incredibly low number when many economists believe the economy will not return to so-called “full employment” of about 5 percent until years after that. It’s worth noting that this is not just unrealistic, it’s impossible. When unemployment drops beneath 5 percent, the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates until a recession pushes it back up.” Then he wrote: "According to the study cited above, Mr Ryan’s plan will bring the unemployment rate down to 6.4% next year, 4.0% in 2015, and 2.8% in 2021.” 2.8 percent in 2021! There no way of doing this short of shooting unemployed people in the back of the head."

Krugman wrote "This is ridiculous; it’s megalomaniacal. If Obama tried to claim that his policies would achieve anything like this, he’d be laughed out of office." with this graph:

Heritage ryan2 1

That's convincing isn't it?

The Economist has a good post, You put the load right on me. "The idea of making market forces work to bring down health-care and health-insurance costs is plausible. What's not plausible is the idea that average individuals are the best-placed people to be carrying out those negotiations. It's entirely possible to set up markets where powerful, well-informed organisations represent individuals in negotiations with insurers and providers in order to bring prices down, without putting those individuals at risk of losing their coverage or of having to go untreated. That's how the Affordable Care Act envisions saving money on Medicare, without running the risk that the elderly will lose their health-insurance coverage. Mr Ryan's proposal is to save money by capping the amount the government will spend on insurance, and letting individual seniors fight the rest out on their own."

James Kwak wrote on this a couple of weeks ago (I'm catching up on my Instapaper queue). Incentives Don’t Work. "One refrain you heard incessantly during the health care reform debate was that we have high health care costs because of overconsumption and we have overconsumption because people don’t bear a high enough share of their marginal health care costs, so the solution is to increase copays and deductibles. This is what Economics 101 would tell you: people respond to incentives. But Gawande discussed one large company that tried this year after year, but only saw their costs going up. The problem was that while most members responded to the higher copays and kept their costs more or less steady, the 5 percent of members who generated 60 percent of the costs behaved differently. Or, rather, they also reduced consumption (of doctor’s visits and prescription medications), but as a result they often had catastrophic outcomes. These were people with heart disease on cholesterol-lowering medications, and when they went off their medications they ended up in the hospital with heart attacks and then with congestive heart failure."

Mark Thoma summed up the Economist's post as The Ryan Plan Is Fundamentally Immoral and followed up on the issues with market-based solutions. "The game being played here has little to do with the budget itself. It is an ideological debate about the role and obligation of government. First, cut taxes for the wealthy to create a big hole in the budget, have a Great Recession aid the cause by stripping government at all levels of tax revenue, increasing costs of serving people, and creating short-run deficit problems (and a war here and there doesn't hurt the cause either), and finally use the deficit as a club against social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The cover for the attempt to get government out of the social insurance game is the deficit, but deficit reduction is not the primary purpose. The goal to reduce the government's involvement in these programs by whatever means. If deficit reduction was, in fact, the primary goal, there are much better ways to do this than the Ryan plan, e.g. the market-based mechanisms in the ACA." Ezra Klein adds a bit to that in How to do Ryan’s health-care reforms right.

I of course get annoyed at the hypocrisy of the right.

Think Progress reports RNC Chair Priebus Criticizes Obama For Cutting Medicare, Then Touts Paul Ryan’s Medicare-Busting Budget. On it's anniversary, Ezra Klein tried to explain the health care reform law.