And we’re back!

Another few years, another promise to keep this blog updated. The truth is that I’ve taken a pretty long break from following politics. The reason is that while I followed politics for much of my life, I realized the politics began to follow me. And because the politics of the current age are dark, mean and angry, it affected me in a dark way.

So I had to take a break.

For the last two years, I’ve been interested in comedy podcasts, most especially podcasts on bad movies. Some of my favorites are “How did This Get Made?” “The Flophouse” and “We Hate Movies.” The last one is especially great and I highly recommend it to bad movie aficionados.

I still hope to find interesting things to write about, but I may talk about politics less than before.

Frontline’s “The Untouchables” Get’s Results

I just watched this great Frontline documentary called “The Untouchables” about the lack of indictments on Wall Street amongst top executives for their roll in the financial crisis of 2008. I highly recommend  watching it:

Frontline “The Untouchables”

I realize that these days there is a cottage industry of documentaries and books on this subject, but the difference in this one is that within 24 hours after the story aired, one of the stories main subjects, Justice Department criminal-division head Lanny Breuer, announced his resignation.

Gettin’ results. Nice job Frontline.




Looking at images of actual atoms!

77 pm resolution. Subatomic structures are visible within single tungsten atoms. Image size 500 × 500 pm2

Right now I’m going crazy over these images I found in which are actual images of atoms.

To capture the image of an atom, scientists use a Scanning-tunnelling microscope, which is explained thusly:

The STM is based on the concept of quantum tunneling. When a conducting tip is brought very near to the surface to be examined, a bias (voltage difference) applied between the two can allow electrons to tunnel through the vacuum between them. The resulting tunneling current is a function of tipposition, applied voltage, and the local density of states (LDOS) of the sample.[4] Information is acquired by monitoring the current as the tip’s position scans across the surface, and is usually displayed in image form. STM can be a challenging technique, as it requires extremely clean and stable surfaces, sharp tips, excellent vibration control, and sophisticated electronics.

OK, that parts not important. What is important is that the images taken  with the STM are at a resolution  considered to be 0.1 nanometers lateral resolution and 0.01 nm depth resolution. This is small enough so that atoms can be imaged and manipulated. It’s really incredible. You can find more by clicking here.

Graphite with AFM showing all atoms within the hexagonal graphite unit cells. Image size 2×2 nm2.

Conducting paths in a chip out of a phonecard. You can see intersecting conducting paths on different planes, which have a distance of vaguely one micrometer.

As he prepares to head the House Science Committee, Ralph Hall (R-TX) enthusiastically says the BP Gulf Oil Spill was “Tremendous to me…all that energy.”

As he prepares to head the House Science Committee, Ralph Hall (R-TX) enthusiastically recalls the BP Gulf Oil Spill:

“As we saw that thing bubbling out, blossoming out – all that energy, every minute of every hour of every day of every week – that was tremendous to me. That we could deliver that kind of energy out there – even on an explosion.”

11 rig workers were killed in the platform explosion  that set about the underwater oil spill that became one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S history and the second largest oil spill ever. An estimated 200,000 gallons of oil leaked into the gulf, the full longterm environmental impact of which has yet to be understood.

Not surprisingly, the Republican Congressman from Texas is a large beneficiary of financial support from the oil industry. According to the website

Ralph Hall has received $78,199 in oil contributions during the 110th congress. $53,999 of those dollars were from industry PACS. In total, Hall has accepted $307,930 from oil companies between 2000 and 2008, which makes him one of the largest recipients of oil money.

Hall’s bizarre comments on the eve of becoming chairman is just the latest of several committee chairs in the upcoming Republican controlled House who have expressed suspicious affection for the industries that they will nominally be charged with regulating.

On December 13th, incoming Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus infamously said that the government should serve big banks, not regulate them:

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

I’d have to be pretty naive to think that past chairmen of important committees from both parties haven’t been this deferential to the industries they are tasked with overseeing. But I don’t think that these sorts of things were ever so openly admitted in public.

Perhaps gaffes like these circulate quicker and more widely because of the internet. But I suspect it’s because this class of Republican leadership is so much more conservative then we’ve seen before. I’m not judging here–well, maybe a little–but I think that Rep. Hall truly cares more about all that precious oil than he does about the suffering that the explosion and subsequent oil spill caused. And in his mind, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

In either case I’ll post an update when Hall inevitably tries to walk back his remarks.

How NOT to finance health care

Bob Herbert talks today in the New York Times about how the Senate Health Reform Bill finances reform in about the dumbest possible way i.e taxing generous health care plans instead of an overall tax increase on everybody.

It should be obvious, but a 40% tax on generous health care benefits will simply discourage employers from proving good health care, and will make health consumption fall without increasing quality in any way.

This compromised health care bill may make things better in some ways, but it should be a textbook lesson on how not to build a nation’s health care system.

Family Research Council push polls The Nabobs

At around 12:10 pm today we received an interesting phone call at Nabob Headquarters. It began as a recored ‘robo-call’ from something called “ABBC Research.” It asked us to agree or disagree to several questions.

The first asked: would we support health care reform even if it allowed the government to pay for abortions?

Though this is a suspicious question (to the best of our knowledge the the reform bill does not look to change the current law by allowing federal funds to pay for abortion) we emphatically said, “yes!”

The next question confirmed our suspicion that this was a ‘push-poll’ by asking: would we support the health care reform bill even though it will raise our premiums, create a government run health care system, use federal money to pay for abortions, create panels run by unelected officials to deny coverage, start rationing care, raise taxes, dig up the graves of 9/11 victims and use their remains to club babies to death, ban christianity and burn the bible?

Though we aren’t sure about the accuracy of the last few questions, the poll was clearly meant to mislead and implant ideas in the heads of the poll’s respondents. We waited through the rest of the poll’s dubious questions our suspicions were confirmed; the ‘poll’ was actually sponsored by a conservative organization, namely the Family Research Council, the anti obscenity, anti-abortion conservative holy-holler christian right group founded by James Dobson.

Nuff said?

Public Option compromises

There have been rumors today of ideas that may replace the badly compromised compromise to a compromise Public Option:

Lower the age of Medicare eligibility:

The proposal would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 55, though an age limit of 60 has also been suggested. Crucial details — such as the timing of the implementation of such a reform — were not provided due to the sensitivity and ongoing nature of the deliberations. A high-ranking Democratic source off the Hill confirmed that such discussions are taking place.

Lowering the floor for Medicare is one of several ideas being discussed as a way to pacify progressives upset over the potential elimination of a public option for insurance coverage, one of the sources added. Senate Democrats held discussions this past weekend about replacing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s version of a public plan with one that would be non-profit-based. The alternative proposal would be offered in state exchanges, run by private insurers but monitored by the Office of Personnel Management.

“The Office Personal Management proposal that has been out there for the past couple days is one of the leading ideas to represent the public option in a modified bill. But there are a series of things that progressives are negotiating in exchange for dropping the [public option] opt-out,” said the source.

What about people 27-55. That doesn’t seem like a great compromise to us!

The other idea would basically allow everyone into the same health insurance pool as federal employees.


Obama: Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good

Remember back in July when Obama spoke about what he would do to help the health care bill along once we got to this point, when the bill got to conference comity?

The House bills and the Senate bills will not be identical. We know this. The politics are different, because the makeup of the Senate and the House are different and they operate on different rules. I am not interested in making the best the enemy of the good. There will be a conference committee where the House and Senate bills will be reconciled, and that will be a tough, lengthy and serious negotiation process.

I am less interested in making sure there’s a litmus test of perfection on every committee than I am in going ahead and getting a bill off the floor of the House and off the floor of the Senate. Eighty percent of those two bills will overlap. There’s going to be 20 percent that will be different in terms of how it will be funded, its approach to the public plan, its pay-or-play provisions. We shouldn’t automatically assume that if any of the bills coming out of the committees don’t meet our test, that there is a betrayal or failure. I think it’s an honest process of trying to reconcile a lot of different interests in a very big bill.

Conference is where these differences will get ironed out. And that’s where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long-term. Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren’t losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I’ll be using. But I’m not assuming either the House and Senate bills will match up perfectly with where I want to end up. But I am going to be insisting we get something done.

Now that we are at the point of reconciling (not to be confused with reconciliation) the House and Senate bills, it is important to hold Obama to the promises that he made to progressives back in July.