Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Reading List

Kate Shepard on Baucus and the Climate Bill.

Matthew Ygelesias on the always exciting subject of the efficacy of tax expenditures.

Lee Fang of Think Progress on the “coal industry‚Äôs perjury under oath” in yesterday’s Congressional hearing.


Reporting the Big Picture

So I’ve been meaning to say if you want to follow the latest on the Health Care reform and the public option, there is no better source then Open Left and Chris Bowers. Here is a partial run down of the various efforts to influence the House bill:

The remaining barriers to passage of the health care bill in the House are two-fold:

1. Bart Stupak’s Regressive Block. Representative Bart Stupak is still looking to round-up forty votes to prevent he bill from going to the floor unless abortions are not covered under all health care plans that receive subsidies in the new insurance exchanges.

The leadership is convinced that if Stupak is able to offer an amendment to that affect on the House floor, that it will pass. If the amendment passes, it will kill the entire bill, because dozens of pro-choice Democratic votes would be lost. As such, the leadership will not allow any amendments to the health care bill on the floor. This means that once the bill hits the floor, that is the bill that will go to conference committee.

2. The Tri-Caucus Progressive Block. For months, the Progressive Caucus, the Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus (and, I think, the Asian-American Caucus) have been trying to round up House Democrats who would vote against a health care bill unless it included the Medicare +5% option. Now that the bill will not include the Medicare +5% public option, the tri-caucus is sounding noncommittal about the bill.

What’s notable is that Chris Bowers makes no effort to be objective, in fact he’s actively pushing for a particular outcome, but he’s still more informative then most media sources. It’s matter of focus.

A typical media source reports a development, quotes a few people on the meaning of the development and maybe outlines the basic facts of the issues. The result is snap shot of a hugely complicated and constantly shifting reality, with side commentary from PR professionals trying to mislead people.

By contrast Open Left is constantly building a complete picture, looking to see if there is contradictory information from other sources and updating the picture rationally, instead of trying to present each day’s developments as game changing and shocking.

And of course the whole picture is what’s important. Lots of members of Congress want something to happen, make a scene, or throw a wrench in the process, but the important thing is if those actions change the big picture. If you want to know that then reading Open Left will get a lot further then the AP wire.


Further Research is Needed

Today the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to look into football head injuries. This is hearing is in response to a growing body of research saying that NFL players that suffer multiple concussions have serious medical problems later in life, including higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease. According to ESPN the NFL has been pushing the line that “more research is necessary”, which the Washington D.C. cop out line when presented with damning information.

The NFL’s rhetoric is reminiscent of the famous denial of tobacco being addictive by tobacco companies. It’s not quite as bad, we do need more research on the issue of Alzheimer’s. But more broadly they’re expecting people believe that blunt force trauma to the brain is an ambiguous area of medical research.

The problem with saying we need more research is that there is no guarantee you’ll get more research and the people you hear saying we need more research invariably end up criticizing other people’s research, as the NFL’s concussion committee did recently, or fund their own biased research, which the NFL also does. Indeed funding bogus research is such a cottage industry that many advocacy groups name themselves “institute”. So while people calling for more research are saying we need to clarify this issue, they are often attempting to obscure the truth.

I’m betting further legitimate research will continue to find a connection between head injuries and brain damage.


EPW Committee Hearing Open To Lobbyists, Closed to the Public (Updated)

Carrots and Sticks staff reports that only paid lobbyists and media were able to make it into today’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

Carrots and Sticks and other citizen groups arrived as early as possible, waited for hours and then were turned away.

Evony Payne of SustainUS, US Youth for Sustainable Development, reports to us that, “Only paid lobbyists made it in, no regular citizens were allowed in. Well over 300 people were turned away.”

Carrots and Sticks, SustainUS, Power Shift and dozens of other groups showed up to participate in democracy and hold Congress accountable, but apparently democracy only gets in the room if elite special interests have seats left over.


As people left the hearing room, Committee staff still wouldn’t let citizens in, apparently holding spots only for staff and credentialed media.

Update 2
Watching the Hearing online, most Senators to speak first are clearly interested in creating media sound bits, more then making substantive points. As they move to the latter speakers, you have more of a traditional debate.

Update 3 (by Jeremy)
One of us did manage to get into the hearing at around 11, and did manage to catch all of the witness testimony and questioning.

To be clear, our issue is not with EPW staff itself, they were very helpful in addressing our concerns. The problem is that the Committee failed to secure a hearing room large enough to accommodate the entirely foreseeable demand for public access. To add insult to injury, all nine seats available were taken by corporate lobbyists, to the detriment of the average American citizen.

The hearings will continue, and we expect this problem to be remedied in the coming days. They must either find a bigger room, or allocate the available space in a more equitable manner.

Update 4
Dana Milbank indicates they could have been in a bigger room.

Global Cooling Still Fake, Global Warming Still Real

Interesting article by the AP shooting down the theory that the Earth is cooling, which brings up a lot of questions about modern media.

In which section will newspapers put the story? Surely this story is more a political then science story.

Why does the AP feel the need to quote a self published researcher cherry picking data, when the whole point of the article is such practices are unscientific? It’s good they’re willing to call out distortions, but you really can’t justify quoting somebody that is just re-emphasizing the distortions.

Why exactly does Steven Levitt think reaching conclusions on a major issue (global temperatures) by “eyeballing” the numbers is OK? The whole ‘analyzing numbers’ thing is how he purports to make a living.


The Senate Moves Forward on Climate Change

The Senate is gearing up for a big week on Energy policy, with the Environment and Public Works (EPW) pulling out the high ranking Administration officials tomorrow. The Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) will also do a hearing on Natural Gas and Climate Change.

I’ve been meaning to write about the contrast between ENR and EPW in terms of the relationship between Ranking members and Chairs. At ENR Jeff Bingaman and Lisa Murkowski basically seem like they’re on the same page as much as you could expect for members of opposite parties. They’re both pro-industry, but make an effort to be reasonable. Neither wants to seen as non-responsive to either industry or environment concerns, even if they don’t agree on policy.

By contrast Jim Inhofe thinks Climate Change is a scam, invites science fiction writers to testify about their conspiracy theories and is more likely to quote the bible then the EPA to explain his vote. Barbara Boxer was the lead Senator against drilling in ANWR, is pushing Climate legislation and is currently directing her office to cut their electricity consumption in half.

ENR is much more in the traditional mold of Congressional Committees, with both sides realizing that working together is the best way to make sure their hard work crafting legislation actually becomes law. The EPW Committee relationship is more reflective of modern politics, which is to say defined by polarization and cable news style blasting each the other side’s legislative priorities.


Sunday Reading on Biophysical Economics

Interesting article in the New York Times a few days ago on advocates of factoring energy more rationally into economics.

A small but growing group of academics believe the latter is true, and they are out to prove it. These thinkers say that the neoclassical mantra of constant economic growth is ignoring the world’s diminishing supply of energy at humanity’s peril, failing to take account of the principle of net energy return on investment. They hope that a set of theories they call “biophysical economics” will improve upon neoclassical theory, or even replace it altogether.

It’ll be interesting to see what new(ish) ideas move to the forefront as people look for new paradigms to deal with 21st century problems.

Worth Reading

If you haven’t already …

Mark Kleiman on why he thinks we will get a Public Option.
Dave Roverts on the New Pew Climate Polling.
Tom Philpott on the Gates Foundation and Agriculture Development. (I kind of wonder if he’s not making mountains out of molehills, but interesting reading regardless)