Wednesday, August 19, 2009

why the tea tastes like pee

Fist tap BTx3.

NHS drawn into u.s. healthcare reform debate



Corporate Health Insurance is damning Obama's attempt to extend health care to the poor. As the process of demonizing the president's attempts grow, it has spawned an opportunistic attack on the British National Health Service (NHS), as well.

oil industry backs protests of emissions bill

NYTimes | Hard on the heels of the health care protests, another citizen movement seems to have sprung up, this one to oppose Washington’s attempts to tackle climate change. But behind the scenes, an industry with much at stake — Big Oil — is pulling the strings.

Hundreds of people packed a downtown theater here on Tuesday for a lunchtime rally that was as much a celebration of oil’s traditional role in the Texas way of life as it was a political protest against Washington’s energy policies, which many here fear will raise energy prices.

“Something we hold dear is in danger, and that’s our future,” said Bill Bailey, a rodeo announcer and local celebrity, who was the master of ceremonies at the hourlong rally.

The event on Tuesday was organized by a group called Energy Citizens, which is backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade group. Many of the people attending the demonstration were employees of oil companies who work in Houston and were bused from their workplaces.

This was the first of a series of about 20 rallies planned for Southern and oil-producing states to organize resistance to proposed legislation that would set a limit on emissions of heat-trapping gases, requiring many companies to buy emission permits. Participants described the system as an energy tax that would undermine the economy of Houston, the nation’s energy capital.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

when most powerful masquerade as grass roots...,

Washington Post | A petroleum industry trade group is asking oil companies to recruit employees and retirees to attend rallies attacking climate-change legislation, an approach to grass-roots politics that resembles strategies used recently by some opponents of health-care reform.

In a memo this month, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard detailed plans for "Energy Citizen" rallies to be held in 20 states during the final two weeks of Congress's August recess. Gerard wrote that the intent was to put a "human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy," including a climate-change bill passed by the House in June.

"Please indicate to your company leadership your strong support for employee participation in the rallies," Gerard wrote in the memo, saying that contractors and suppliers should also be recruited.

Environmental groups on Saturday criticized the rallies, which they described as manufactured events intended to pass as organic assemblies of concerned citizens. Greenpeace activists said they saw parallels to the health-care debate, where opponents of reform -- including some organizations that receive heavy funding from industry groups and individuals -- have organized efforts to shout down lawmakers at "town hall" meetings.

"It's the most powerful among us, masquerading as grass-roots outrage to stifle debate on global warming," Michael Crocker, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said of the oil group's plans. "These are manufactured concerns, and the people who get involved in this are paid to put on this theater."

The memo, obtained by Greenpeace, was first reported on by the Financial Times Saturday.

cap and rage...,

Washington Post | The fight over health-care reform could hobble climate-change legislation. The rancorous debate over health reform has given voice to considerable uneasiness among Americans. Many are worried about how a new system will be paid for in an economy that has unraveled, and they are anxious about a kudzu-like expansion of an already unwieldy bureaucracy. Given the herculean effort it will take to get President Obama's vision of reform through Congress, we're not convinced that the Senate will have the stomach to tackle cap-and-trade legislation this fall. The growing agitation within the chamber over the creation of another complex system to buy, sell and trade pollution credits only adds to our doubts.

If Congress fails to pass cap-and-trade legislation, it will rapidly approach a fork in the road in addressing global warming. Members can sit back while unelected bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency follow through on their moves toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Or they can entertain a carbon-based tax designed to reduce emissions and give the money back to taxpayers in an equitable manner. A decision on which path to take is bearing down upon us. Not only are the global warming dangers facing the planet reaching the tipping point, but there will also be no climate agreement in Copenhagen without strong leadership in words and deeds from the United States. As the Senate forges ahead, nothing should be off the table.

the more things change.....,

Fist tap Denmark Vesey.

corporations co-opt craziness...,

Washington Post | Before the "black helicopters" of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a "civil rights movement" had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would "enslave" whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives -- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. "What's the matter, madam?" he asked. "What can I do for you?" The woman responded with self-righteous fury: "Well, if you don't know I can't help you."

The various elements -- the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won't hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension -- sound as fresh as yesterday's news. (Internment camps for conservatives? That's the latest theory of tea party favorite Michael Savage.)
Rick Perlstein will be online today at 11:00am ET to discuss this article. Outlook: In America, Crazy Is a Pre-existing Condition
' ... the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy ...'


American Prospect | Before the big House vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), Rep. Tom Perriello had a tough choice to make. Perriello won his seat by a small margin and worried about attacks from Republicans campaigning against the bill. Ultimately, he voted for it, in part because he believes a sustainable energy industry is the future of his district's economy.

But even as he was considering how to approach the legislation, he received at least five letters from local constituency groups opposing the bill, including a local Hispanic advocacy organization and the area branch of the NAACP. There was just one one small problem: The letters were forgeries; at least one came from Washington, D.C.-based lobbyists Bonner & Associates.

“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

For all the reprehensible shenanigans that lobbying firms involve themselves in, forging letters from civil-rights groups to oppose this legislation is still pretty outrageous -- in fact, the NAACP even supports the legislation. Members of Congress are already very skeptical of constituent communications in this day of Internet-organized communications blitzes; the possibility that they may take these messages even less seriously due to fraud is a very disheartening one. Hopefully the reporting on this story will spur an investigation by legal authorities and some serious punishment for the perpetrators.

surreal bookerrising moment...,

Monday, August 17, 2009

game over - payer profits prevail

Washington Post | The president has said that creating a nonprofit, government-sponsored insurance plan -- competing alongside private insurers -- would provide a lower-cost alternative for consumers and keep the industry "honest." In Colorado on Saturday, the tone was more conciliatory.

"The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health-care reform," Obama said. "This is just one sliver of it."

The proposal has become a lightning rod, particularly in the Senate, where Finance Committee members are seeking bipartisan consensus.

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option," said Conrad, one of six panel members involved in the talks. "There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Democrats are moving toward a European-style, single-payer system. "And this public plan, this public government plan, don't think for a minute that that will not destroy the current insurance system," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Sebelius and other administration aides have said Obama is open to a nonprofit cooperative model as an alternative to the public option and the existing private plans. Finance Committee members have been studying utility co-ops as a possible model.

Liberal leaders reacted strongly to the idea that Obama would walk away from what they consider a central element of reform.

"I don't think this bill is worth passing without a public option," said Howard Dean, head of the grass-roots group Democracy for America.

mining the technosphere

Mining the Technosphere: a Solution for the Industrial Ecosystem? from Rembrandt Koppelaar on Vimeo.

world cement production

The Oil Drum | Cement is mainly used to make concrete, and is sort of the "active ingredient" in concrete - it is combined with sand and gravel in roughly fixed proportions. So cement production can be considered a rough proxy for the total amount of construction going on in a country.

The growth in China, from 1 GT to 1.3 GT in two years is mindboggling, even India and Russia are interesting...and there's more to think about under the fold. China's 2007 cement exports were only 33 million tons out of 1.3 billion tons produced. So, at least for China, production is a good proxy for demand/consumption.

Also interesting is the percentage of the world's production of cement that China took up in 2007 (50%) compared to 2004 (42.5%); some of this can no doubt be due to preparation for the Olympics, but that surely cannot not be all of that growth can it? Also note that other countries (perhaps the "developing world?") seems to be using less of the total proportion of cement used.

Some things we learned from the comment thread from Stuart's post a couple of years ago:

Remember, in China, oil isn't used in cement production. In the "clinker" stage, it's all coal. In the blending stage it's electricity (which is generated 80% from coal in China).

And cement production in China is inefficient. There are hundreds of small plants, both wet and dry processes, and the local environmental impact is severe.

Making a pound of cement releases a pound of CO2. And a Gigaton or two?

This also isn't a new phenomenon. This link shows data back to 1999 that illustrated that China has been at this for quite a while, but perhaps not to this extent.

To conclude, here is the percent change of production bar graph from 2005 to 2008. Think about what all that means in terms of energy. Also note the numbers from India, Russia, and the US.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

copeland "revival" - harvesting reality casualties

NYTimes | Onstage before thousands of believers weighed down by debt and economic insecurity, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and their all-star lineup of “prosperity gospel” preachers delighted the crowd with anecdotes about the luxurious lives they had attained by following the Word of God.

Private airplanes and boats. A motorcycle sent by an anonymous supporter. Vacations in Hawaii and cruises in Alaska. Designer handbags. A ring of emeralds and diamonds.

“God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you,” preached Mrs. Copeland, dressed in a crisp pants ensemble like those worn by C.E.O.’s.

Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.

The preachers barely acknowledged the recession, though they did say it was no excuse to curtail giving. “Fear will make you stingy,” Mr. Copeland said.

But the offering buckets came up emptier than in some previous years, said those who have attended before.

gop seeks its revival in healthcare revolt

LATimes | Conservatives are calling it their August Revolt -- a surprising upsurge of activism against President Obama's proposed healthcare overhaul.

Spurred on by the success of their efforts to dominate the news at Democratic town hall meetings, conservative groups are reporting increases in membership lists and are joining forces to plan at least one mass demonstration in Washington next month.

But the conservative mobilization has also created an unusual dilemma for Republican leaders, who want to turn the enthusiasm into election victories next year but find themselves the target of ire from many of the same activists.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the GOP's Senate campaign committee, was booed at a "tea party" rally in July for supporting the government bailout of the financial services industry.

And one of the GOP's most reliable conservatives, Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, was shouted down at a recent town hall meeting when he criticized a conservative broadcaster and tried to counter claims that children would soon be forced to receive swine flu vaccinations.

"You cannot build a movement on something that is not credible," said a frustrated Inglis, referring to the vaccine issue and other false rumors being spread by more aggressive critics of the health bill.


foxes out of the chicken coop

Washington Post | The Department of Health and Human Services is almost certain to take on responsibility for creating the criteria used to decide what health records technologies qualify for billions of dollars in reimbursements to medical offices under a new stimulus program, officials said Friday.

The decision represents a significant restriction of the role played by a private certification group, begun several years ago by the technology industry, which until recently had served as the government's gatekeeper for endorsing systems designed to improve the sharing of medical records.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, or CCHIT, came under sharp criticism in May after a Washington Post story showed that it has close ties to a trade group whose members stand to receive billions as a result of the stimulus legislation.

The trade group, called the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, was a key force behind the Obama administration's decision to include $36.5 billion in the stimulus package for development of electronic health records networks.

Under the stimulus legislation, doctors and medical organizations can be reimbursed for buying equipment that is certified as meeting certain mandates, including that the gear provides "meaningful use" to improve information sharing.

The nonprofit certification commission was started in 2004 with support from the trade association and two other industry groups. In recent years, it has received funding through HHS, but it is run by a former executive of the trade association and one of its current trustees also is president of the association. Several board members work for technology companies.

Critics of the certification group have complained that apparent conflicts of interest would undermine the group's credibility in judging deciding what technology merited stimulus funding.

"There was an apparent conflict. . . . We don't want to spend the next several years on a sideshow," said Paul Egerman, co-chairman of the advisory group that recommended that the HHS, instead of the private group, should set the criteria.

"Our energies need to be focused on the substantial challenges involved in getting physicians to use these systems effectively while, simultaneously, earning the public's trust in the privacy and integrity of these systems."

The recommendations of Egerman and several others were endorsed by a government health information technology advisory board Friday. That development virtually ensures the recommendations will be formally embraced, after a public comment period, by the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the HHS.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


when did your county's jobs disappear?

Slate | The economic crisis, which has claimed more than 5 million jobs since the recession began, did not strike the entire country at once. A map of employment gains or losses by county tells the story of how those job losses first struck in the most vulnerable regions and then spread rapidly to the rest of the country. As early as August 2007, for example—several months before the recession officially began—jobs were already on the decline in southwest Florida; Orange County, Calif.; much of New Jersey; and Detroit, while other areas of the country remained on the uptick.

Using the Labor Department's local area unemployment statistics, Slate presents the recession as told by unemployment numbers for each county in America. Because the data are not seasonally adjusted for natural employment cycles throughout the year, the numbers you see show the change in the number of people employed compared with the same month in the previous year. Blue dots represent a net increase in jobs, while red dots indicate a decrease. The larger the dot, the greater the number of jobs gained or lost. Click the arrows or calendar at the bottom to see each month of data. Click the green play button to see an animation of the data. Fist tap Dale.

Friday, August 14, 2009

lunch with jared diamond

Financial Times | Jared Diamond is the guru of collapse. Collapse is the title of one of the books that have made him a world-famous academic. It is a theme that captures the Zeitgeist: markets have collapsed, banks have collapsed and confidence, even in the capitalist system itself, has collapsed.

Diamond’s celebrated book – which added to the reputation he earned through Guns, Germs andSteel, a Pulitzer prize-winner about why some societies triumph over others – sought to discover what makes civilisations, many at their apparent zenith, crumble overnight. The Maya of Central America, the stone-carving civilisation of Easter Island, and the Soviet Union – all suddenly shattered.

The question lurking in Diamond’s work is: could we be next? Could the great skyscrapers of Manhattan one day become deserted canyons of a bygone civilisation, a modern version of Ozymandias’s trunkless legs of stone?

language shapes thoughts

Newsweek | When the Viaduct de Millau opened in the south of France in 2004, this tallest bridge in the world won worldwide accolades. German newspapers described how it "floated above the clouds" with "elegance and lightness" and "breathtaking" beauty. In France, papers praised the "immense" "concrete giant." Was it mere coincidence that the Germans saw beauty where the French saw heft and power? Lera Boroditsky thinks not.

A psychologist at Stanford University, she has long been intrigued by an age-old question whose modern form dates to 1956, when linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf asked whether the language we speak shapes the way we think and see the world. If so, then language is not merely a means of expressing thought, but a constraint on it, too. Although philosophers, anthropologists, and others have weighed in, with most concluding that language does not shape thought in any significant way, the field has been notable for a distressing lack of empiricism—as in testable hypotheses and actual data.

That's where Boroditsky comes in. In a series of clever experiments guided by pointed questions, she is amassing evidence that, yes, language shapes thought. The effect is powerful enough, she says, that "the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically," not only when they are thinking in order to speak, "but in all manner of cognitive tasks," including basic sensory perception. "Even a small fluke of grammar"—the gender of nouns—"can have an effect on how people think about things in the world," she says.