Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Census Update
States that went for McCain made a net gain of 6 electoral votes.

Florida is more important than ever now (+2). Pennsylvania (-1), Ohio (-2), Michigan (-1), are less so. Other states gaining a House member (electoral vote): Utah, Washington, Nevada, South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona. Texas gained 4.

Other states losing ground: Louisiana, New York (-2), Illinois, Massachusetts,
Iowa, Missouri and New Jersey.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Article 19 Poll
Who would you rather be, this woman who is addicted to her hair-dryer? Or this woman who lacks the capacity to experience fear?

It would be easier to hide a hair-dryer addiction than an inability to be fearful, but it would be a more embarrassing problem, right? Plus, how cool would it be to go through life without being afraid?

On the other hand, placing yourself in imminent danger without concern probably has some kind of down side. And, presumably an addiction can be treated, whereas the rare no-fear brain disease apparently can't.

Stem-Cell Cure for HIV?
The good news is, scientists believe they have the cure for HIV - and leukemia for that matter. The bad news is, it might kill you or make you sick, and will cost a ton. And since they have learned to keep people alive for quite some time with HIV medication, they're not going to be trying it in all but the most extreme cases.
In the study, published last week online in the journal Blood, researchers at Charite-University Medicine Berlin treated an HIV-infected man who also had acute myeloid leukemia -- a cancer of the immune system -- by wiping out his own immune system with high-dose chemotherapy and radiation and giving him a stem-cell transplant. Stem cells are immature cells that can mature into blood cells.

At the time of the transplant, which occurred in February 2007, he stopped taking anti-HIV medications.
So, you have to find the right donor match, have to be healthy enough to withstand the treatment, sick enough to need it, and rich enough to afford it. Still, sounds like amazing progress. I have mixed feelings about this risk calculation issue. Would you rather go through a risky treatment of hell with the possibility of coming out of it with a healthy immune system, or choose HIV drugs for life and hope they work, with minimal side-effects?

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Judge Finally Finds Health Care Mandate Unconstitutional
A George W. Bush appointee has, surprise, found the health care mandate unconstitutional, claiming it overreaches Congress' power to regulate under the Commerce Clause. Of course, media will play this up as somehow a huge blow - and it's not good news to be sure. But they will probably not remind that more than one other judge has already found the provision to be perfectly legal.

This will all wind its way up the Appeals Court and ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, like it or not. But that was going to be true no matter what this conservative judge in Virginia decided. Here's the argument, in a nutshell:
The Supreme Court’s position on the Commerce Clause has evolved through four signature cases over the last 68 years, with three decided since 1995. Two of the opinions established broad powers to regulate even personal commercial decisions that may influence a broader economic scheme. But other cases have limited regulation to “activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.”

A major question, therefore, has been whether the income tax penalties levied against those who do not obtain health insurance are designed to regulate “activity” or, as Virginia’s solicitor general, E. Duncan Getchell Jr., has argued, “inactivity” that is beyond Congress’ reach.

Justice Department lawyers have responded that individuals cannot opt out of the medical market, and that the act of not obtaining insurance is an active decision to pay for health care out of pocket. They say that such decisions, taken in the aggregate, shift billions of dollars in uncompensated care costs to governments, hospitals and the privately insured.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thanks Ralph
10 years ago yesterday, this happened.

How much different would the world be today if Ralph Nader had never run for President in 2000?
156 to 4
David Corn makes the case for Obama's tax compromise in a column today, and on the way he explains the deal in startling numbers:
Obama's desired provisions will provide about $214 billion in tax cuts and benefits to 156 million people, and the GOP's treats will dole out $133 billion to 4 million. You can do the math without a calculator and see that those poor rich folks will be handed oodles more than the rest. One comparison: On average, people with more than $1 million in income will end up with an extra $140,000. A taxpayer in the $40,000-to-$50,000 range will receive $1,679. You may ask yourself, why do millionaires and billionaires warrant more pocket money, particularly when it's generally accepted that spreading cash among the rich is not effective economic stimulation? The answer: That's what Republicans want. And Obama is right: They held the rest of America hostage -- no cuts and benefits for you, unless there's "relief" for the gazillionaires.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Less Than 1 Second
Wow, watch this amazing video of the end of overtime last night between the Sharks and the Flyers. Here's the setup. Philly blew a big lead and let San Jose come back to tie the game and send it in to overtime, but got to celebrate when Mike Richards won the game at the very end of the extra session - or at least he thought he did.
Will Believe It When I See It
Suddenly as of last night, Democratic hearts are aflutter over the prospect that Senator Collins (R-ME) just might be able to support Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal after all. Like a jilted lover coming back for more abuse, Democrats seem to think she just might mean it this time.

I'm guessing no. Anyone who would hold hostage something so fundamental as this to the demand that we get more and more time to debate - as if that's really necessary, or a Senate debate even means anything anymore - is just not a serious person. Republicans want to waste time, running out the clock on this lame duck session, and Collins was more than happy a few days ago to sell our her principles in furtherance of that cruel goal. I don't see any reason to believe that's changed just because Republicans might get 15 amendments and 30 hours of debate instead of 7 amendments and 10 hours, or whatever.

We went through this with Senator Snowe on Health Care Reform, as she went out of her way to pretend she supported reform in principle to keep her ass covered as she ultimately voted against it. Why should we believe anything different is happening here? This is CYA 101. Why do reporters continue to fall for it?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Quote of the Day
Rep. Peter Welch (D-CT):
...what the president is doing here is using tax policy to get more stimulus, to increase aggregate demand. And if you add up how much he gave and how much he got, he probably got a pretty good deal.
That's from a Democrat who is leading the charge *against* the deal. His argument? The President made it look too easy; should have spent more time tilting at windmills. Read the whole thing. If Obama had spent all of December going around arguing for his tax policies and trying harder, then Welch would be just fine with this deal on Dec. 31. He says so.
In Case You Missed It
The tax cut deal - if it's even a deal anymore - conceded to Republicans 2-year extension of the tax cuts at all income levels, as everyone knows. It also agreed to extend the estate tax exemption for estates smaller than $5 million.

But Obama *got* these things in return:

--A 2 point reduction in the payroll tax for a year. That will put additional money in your paycheck.
--An increase in the estate tax rate (to 35%) on estates larger than $5 million
--An extension of unemployment benefits through December of next year, a 13-month extension altogether.
Random Resolution
I will not take seriously the complaints of any pundit or columnist regarding the way Obama supposedly did not stand up on principle and take on Republicans in this tax cut compromise unless their rant includes some end-game description of what he could and should have done to achieve a different and better result.

I'm not saying there's no way the administration could have done better. But let's at least be honest about the real options he faced.

Mostly what they seem to have wanted was for him to play chicken and threaten the end of all the tax cuts, raising taxes on all of us in January - something he explicitly promised not to do in the campaign. Perhaps he should have been willing for that to happen, let the taxes go up, taking money out of the hands of middle class consumers while we are stumbling toward an economic recovery.

I imagine all of his advisors are telling him that raising taxes on the middle class not only directly violates a campaign pledge, it also threatens the economic recovery that is the most important issue, both for the country and for his re-election.

Monday, December 06, 2010

While You're Not Working at the Office Today
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the Proposition 8 challenge brought by Ted Olson and David Boies, and in a rare move, the court has agreed to televise the proceeding. Starts at 1 PM Eastern time, will be on C-Span, and lasts for two hours - the length afforded this hearing being another rarity.

Ultimately, this will be decided by the Supreme Court, and I'm not so convinced they will care one way or another how a panel of the 9th Circuit feels about it. Still, how these three decide the issue may at least frame the public debate in the interim. Either way, it is pretty much must-see TV for the C-Span nerds among us.
Kennedy v. Palin
In a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend, Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend takes down Sarah Palin's critique of a famous speech of President Kennedy's, in which he asserted his belief in the separation of church and state, and the principle of "no religious test for office." Read about it here.

Friday, December 03, 2010

One maddening thing about Democratic congressional strategies - say on this tax cut extension business - is they seem to think they can overturn long-held narratives with something as simple as facts.

It's true - Republicans in the House yesterday voted against extending tax cuts for all families on the first $250,000 of income. They did that, they say, because they will accept nothing less than extension of tax cuts for all income levels. Still, Democrats *pounce*: they voted against tax cuts for the middle class! They voted to raise your taxes! And, surely, they did. But this reality is not going to sink into a public consciousness that for generations has known that Republicans are for all tax cuts all the time. Which party wants to keep taxes low, you ask? Republicans, they will say, regardless of what just happened in the House on a Thursday afternoon in December.

That's frustrating, but it's reality.

Democrats should focus on the one honest truth that is also ingrained in the public's mind: Republicans care more about lowering taxes for rich people than they do anything else in the world. They will sell out the middle class, explode the deficit, and likely trample their own dear mothers in pursuit of this ignoble goal. Even that argument is unlikely to work though, as Republicans sell every effort to stand in their way as the desperate attempt by Democrats to raise taxes, thus exploiting the narrative.

Facts (Obama has lowered taxes for almost every single American), figures (continuing the tax cuts for upper incomes will explode the budget deficit) and earnest efforts to find compromise... none of these things matter.

What's a Democrat to do?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

NASA Discovery May "Rewrite a Lot of Chemistry"
I never took Biology in school, and didn't really pay attention in Chemistry, but apparently one of the principles that has defined "life as we know it" is that phosphorous is a required chemical element, essential to the structure of DNA molecules. But today NASA scientists announced the results of a test demonstrating arsenic can be used in its place in some bacteria.
It turns out that that [Mono Lake], 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, contains lots of arsenic as well as the usual phosphorus. Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues designed an experiment to take a particular type of salt-loving bacteria called GFAJ-1 from Mono Lake's mud sediments, wean it off phosphorus, and see if it could switch its diet to arsenic.

In the paper published today, the researchers report that some of the bacteria could survive on arsenic and incorporate it into their cellular biochemistry. Instead of the usual phosphate-rich DNA, they observed arsenate-rich DNA. Heightened levels of arsenic also showed up in the cell's proteins and fats. The scientists used mass spectroscopy, radioactive labeling and X-ray fluorescence to confirm that the arsenic was really being used in the biomolecules rather than merely contaminating the cells.
If that could happen in the laboratory, why couldn't it happen naturally? ASU astrobiologist Paul Davies, another one of the paper's co-authors, has long held that "weird life" -- based on chemical building blocks unlike our own -- could exist right under our noses on Earth, or in extraterrestrial environments.
Some scientists - particularly the ones who will have to rewrite the Chemistry books, I presume - are skeptical of these results, insisting that arsenic likely did not actually take the place of phosphorous, just became highly pronounced and accommodated by the bacteria in the experiment.
In Which I Miss the Point and Ask a Stupid Question
In a good post ("Bad Poker") capturing much of my frustration with the White House these days, Ezra Klein yesterday quoted Jonathan Alter in questioning the President's negotiation strategies now that he's once again seemingly caved on a Republican demand without extracting the slightest concession from their side.
On page 116 of “The Promise,” Jonathan Alter describes President Obama's approach to the stimulus as "bad poker." "Instead of holding his cards close, and then sweetening the pot for Republicans with tax cuts in the final negotiations, [Obama] offered nearly $300 billion in tax cuts at the front-end of the process. ... It was a big bargaining chip left off the table."
"You don't go out and say you're going to freeze federal pay on your own," says one angry Hill staffer. "You go sit across a table from someone, say, ‘I'm willing to do this, but this is what you’ve got to give me.’ That’s how this works."
I'm angry too! Republicans finally have a stake in accomplishing something - they own the House. This is the best time yet to use that to his advantage. Yet he keeps going with the olive branch route. Almost as if he believes in such things.

But seriously - and the real reason for this post - what does any of this stuff have to do with poker? There is no negotiation, bargaining, or give-and-take in poker. Have any of the people constantly using this metaphor ever actually played the game?

You don't "sweeten the pot" in hopes that both competitors will get something out of the hand. Both sides might add to the prize, but at the end of it, only one wins and the other one gets bubkus.  Poker is exactly the opposite of a negotiation process. Poker is the showdown game you play in the absence of negotiation.

If anything, I would accuse the President of playing poker when he should be bargaining. In poker, when you think you have the weaker hand, you simply fold and let your opponent take what you've thrown in. Clearly believing he is not in a strong position, that's exactly what Obama's doing. And if you believe your opponent has you beat, folding isn't "bad poker" at all, it's smart play. Still, why is it the game he's playing?